Alan Shaw, the CEO of the Norfolk Southern railway company, recently testified before the Republican-controlled Pennsylvanian Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee on the East Palestine train disaster after being subpoenaed to do so. According to Just The News, the CEO provided vague answers on who gave the order to do a controlled burn of the derailed train filled with toxic chemicals.
The CEO previously described before the Harrisburg senate committee how the intentional ignition of the train cars carrying the dangerous chemicals was “a success” and qualified it as “the right decision to make.” The chair of the committee, Doug Mastriano (R), noted “that flaming plume of toxic chemicals may have been a ‘success’ for Norfolk Southern and helped to get its trains running again, but it failed to protect the health of local residents. Norfolk Southern’s epic failure is observable in the rashes, headaches, respiratory problems, and other health issues that are plaguing local residents.”
After this contentious exchange, the question was placed before the CEO who bore responsibility for that ‘successful’ decision. As Just The News relates Mr. Shaw told the committee that “a unified command team – led by a local fire chief in East Palestine, Ohio and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine – OK’d the ‘controlled release’ plan on Feb. 6 to prevent a dangerous explosion that would have spread contaminants and deadly shrapnel across the region.”
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When Senator Mastriano pressed for a name on who led this unified command team, Shaw claimed it was the local fire chief of East Palestine who made the decision. To wit, the state senator remarked “You’re blaming it on a chief in East Palestine, correct? So your cars are on fire, it’s your rail, it’s your incident and you’re going to leave it to a local fire chief who’s likely never had to deal with this before?”
The senator also added that “I find it hard to believe the fire chief of a local community made this decision that has ramifications on residents in multiple states. If Shaw really believes the railroad car ignition was a ‘success,’ I would think he would want to give credit to whoever made the decision.”
While the CEO of Norfolk Southern insisted that his company only operates safe trains and that they would never run unsafe operations, the committee heard contrary testimony. That adverse testimony came from Andrew Whelton, a professor of Civil, Environmental, and Ecological Engineering at Purdue University, who commented that “the derailment and subsequent burning impacts as many as 37 million people living in the five-state region.”
Professor Whelton also noted that “federal, state, and local agencies tasked with testing the air, water, and soil for contamination are doing so inconsistently and not screening for several chemicals that would be tied to the accident.” Whelton believes that the testing following the derailment and controlled burn is too limited in what chemicals it chooses to test for. As such certain cancer-causing chemicals may remain unaccounted for because that chemical was not included in the testing regimen.
Whelton summarized his above position by simply stating that “[t]he numbers don’t matter. It matters what you test for. I tell agencies they need to throw the kitchen sink at it at first.”