Ohio train derailment: NTSB chief says incident was ‘100% preventable’

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited East Palestine on Thursday as the National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report on the train derailment that prompted evacuations and concerns over environmental contaminants earlier this month.

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The report comes about three weeks after a Norfolk Southern Railway train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border just before 9 p.m. on Feb. 3. Officials said 38 cars derailed and 12 others were damaged by fire. Earlier, authorities said 10 of the derailed cars carried hazardous, flammable materials, though officials on Thursday said 11 cars contained such chemicals.

Update 6:02 p.m. EST Feb. 23: Jennifer Homendy, head of the National Transportation Safety Board, said during a briefing on Thursday that the train derailment was “100% preventable.”

“We call things accidents – there is no accident,” Homendy said. “Every single event that we investigate is preventable.”

She added that there is no evidence that the train’s crew “did anything wrong,” CNN reported.

Homendy also criticized the rhetoric between Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and former President Donald Trump, who visited the area on back-to-back days, The Associated Press reported. Trump criticized the federal response to the derailment, while Buttigieg criticized the deregulation that occurred during the former president’s term.

That brought a tart response from Homedy.

“Enough with the politics. I don’t understand why this has gotten so political,” she saidduring her briefing from Washington. “This is a community that is suffering. This is not about politics. This is about addressing their needs, their concerns.”

Bob D’Angelo, Cox Media Group National Content Desk

Original report: In its initial report, the NTSB said the cars that contained hazardous materials ignited, causing 12 more cars to catch fire. As many as 2,000 residents were evacuated from the surrounding area as officials initially responded to the incident.

The NTSB said the train crew slowed the train after getting an alarm message warning them to inspect a hot axle that had been detected. An automatic emergency brake initiated and the train came to a stop before crew members saw smoke and fire. They warned a train dispatcher about the apparent derailment.

In an update published by the NTSB last week, officials said surveillance video from a home showed what appeared to be “a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure” a short while before the derailment.

Authorities continue to investigate the cause of the wreck.

Buttigieg traveled to East Palestine as officials face mounting criticism over their response to the incident, according to The Associated Press. President Joe Biden has been in touch with officials on the ground, according to the White House, though he has not visited the area.

Residents have shared concerns and frustrations over possible contaminants in the air and water after the derailment. Officials last week estimated that 3,500 fish died due to the spillage of toxic chemicals in the area, WEWS-TV reported, citing the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Cathey Reese, a Negley, Ohio, resident whose property includes a portion of Leslie Run, told WPXI earlier this month that water contamination was her biggest concern.

“Don’t tell me it’s safe,” she told the news station. “Something is going on if the fish are floating in the creek.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Norfolk Southern to identify and clean any contaminated soil and water resources.

“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” EPA administrator Michael S. Regan said Tuesday in a statement. “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.”

Federal officials and the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania have said air, soil and water testing has been ongoing since the derailment.

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