Sen. J.D. Vance calling for accountability for Norfolk Southern’s ‘unnecessary’ vent and burn

Fallout continues after a scathing Congressional hearing that included testimony about Norfolk Southern’s vent and burn following last year’s derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

On March 6, the NTSB said the controlled burn wasn’t necessary because there was no risk of a catastrophic explosion and experts on the scene weren’t a part of the decision-making process. Now, an Ohio senator is calling for someone to be held responsible.

Sen. J.D. Vance (R-Ohio) methodically asked the NTSB questions last week during that hearing to piece together how the decision to vent and burn was made.

>> Controlled burn, explosion weren’t necessary after East Palestine train derailment, NTSB chair says

“We need to focus on why. Why was that mistake made?” Vance said.

On March 6, the Chairwoman of the NTSB, Jennifer Homendy, said the vent and burn wasn’t necessary because the rail cars were cooling down and there was no evidence there would have been a catastrophic explosion.

“There was another option,” Chairwoman Homendy testified. “Let it cool down. It was cooling down.”

“This is a really, really, troubling set of circumstances,” Sen. Vance said during the hearing. “This town may well have been poisoned to facilitate the rapid movement of freight.”

>> No evidence of contamination found in western Pa. from East Palestine train derailment, DEP says

Thursday, we talked to Senator Vance, one-on-one about last week’s hearing.

“I think we’re getting the full truth now,” Sen. Vance added.

The senator says what came out of this investigation that was most troubling is that the chemical company who owned the rail cars and had expert experience with toxic vinyl chloride, was left out of the decision to vent and burn.

“The chemical company that actually knew what was going on in the cars said they weren’t overheating, there wasn’t a risk of a catastrophic explosion,” Vance said.

The NTSB says the incident commander and the Governor of Ohio didn’t even know that the company and its expert were on scene.

“It’s not meant as a criticism of the Governor, it’s meant as a criticism of Norfolk Southern and trying to understand why the proper decision-makers weren’t in the room,” Vance added.

Vance says those answers will lead to how we can prevent something like this from happening again and who to hold responsible. He says he believes the decision to vent and burn was made so Norfolk Southern could clear the tracks quickly to keep moving freight.

“That’s not an excuse to poison an entire community of people,” Vance added.

Norfolk Southern sent the following statement defending their position to conduct the controlled burn, reading:

“The final decision to conduct a controlled release was made by the Incident Commander, with input from multiple stakeholders, including Norfolk Southern and local, state, and federal authorities. The top priority of everyone involved was the safety of the community, as well as limiting the impact of the incident. The successful controlled release prevented a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled explosion that could have caused significant damage for the community. To date, continuous environmental testing in coordination with and alongside US and Ohio EPA has shown the air and drinking water in the community are safe.”

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