Disaster expert, Norfolk Southern CEO testify before Pennsylvania Senate committee

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was among individuals who testified on the East Palestine derailment and aftermath before Pennsylvania lawmakers on Monday.

First to testify during the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee was Dr. Andrew Whelton, a Purdue University professor who told lawmakers he has spent years involved in disaster response.

Whelton testified that he and a team of volunteers have visited the disaster site on several occasions.

He said that during their first trip, they found that “acute health risks remained, even though the narrative was that they were not there.”

Whelton accused government agencies of failing to test for particular chemicals, including known carcinogens.

“We have urged these agencies to correct their testing approaches and we haven’t seen that yet... it’s pretty hard to understand what the health risks are for something if you’re not testing for them,” Whelton testified.

Shaw was next to testify, starting off by telling lawmakers that he is “deeply sorry” for the derailment’s impact, and pledged to “make this right.”

Shaw cited the government studies that claim, to date, dangerous contamination has not been found.

Shaw further stressed the millions of dollars that the company has pumped into assisting the community, and stated that they are in the “planning stages” of developing a medical compensation fund, a property value assurance program, and a long-term water testing program.

But, Senator Katie Muth pointed out a paradox, asking Shaw why health compensation is needed if “no one was poisoned?”

Lawmakers further pressed Shaw on how the decision was made to arrange the controlled burn and release of the chemicals.

Shaw testified that it was ultimately the local fire chief who made that decision, while serving as the “incident commander.” Shaw stated that the fire chief had been in close contact with Ohio’s governor, as well as a “unified command.” Shaw claimed that the unified command was aligned on the decision, and claimed it was made up of state and federal representatives. When pressed to name or identify those representatives, however, Shaw was not able to.

Senator Doug Mastriano called Shaw’s testimony into question.

“I know the local fire chief was not the guy on the ground making the final decision,” Senator Mastriano said. “There was allegation last week in Congress that this was more a business decision to get the trains running again, rather than what was best for the safety of the people.”

But, Shaw claimed that great risks were associated with alternatives, and stated that the controlled burn and release “worked.”

“We avoided the potential for a catastrophic, uncontrolled explosion,” Shaw said.

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