Plastic pellets, diesel spill into Pennsylvania river after train derailment: police

Plastic pellets, diesel spill into Pennsylvania river after train derailment: police

LOWER SAUCON TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) -- A derailment involving three Norfolk Southern trains near Bethlehem, Pennsylvania spilled some diesel fuel and plastic pellets along the Lehigh River on Saturday morning, the company and local authorities said.

The National Transportation Safety Board said preliminary information revealed an eastbound Norfolk Southern train struck a still train on the same track.

The wreckage from the striking train then spilled onto an adjacent track and was subsequently struck by a westbound Norfolk Southern train, NTSB officials said. The crash led to the derailment of an "unknown number of cars," NTSB told CBS News Philadelphia.

Officials said there was no danger to the public from the derailment or the spills and no evacuation orders were in effect. There are no reported injuries.

Members of responding crews on the scene near Riverside Drive have contained diesel fuel that spilled from the locomotive with "booms," or barriers, and are vacuuming it out of the river.

Others are cleaning up the polypropylene plastic pellets, which a Norfolk Southern spokesperson said spilled out of a single train car during the derailment and landed "predominantly onto the ground."

Emergency responders were dispatched to the derailment site at 7:15 a.m., just east of the Steel City village, Lower Saucon Township Police Chief Thomas Barndt said in a news release.

"There was a diesel fuel spill into the Lehigh River from the accident and containment booms have been deployed," Barndt said. "There is also a spill of polypropylene plastic pellets from one of the derailed cars."

Some Lehigh Valley residents on social media reported hearing about the derailment.

Images from the Nancy Run Fire Company's Facebook page showed train cars off the tracks along the Lehigh River. The train was hauling boxcars and tanker cars, the photos show.

The photos also showed at least one train car partially submerged in the river.

Norfolk Southern sent the following statement to CBS News Philadelphia:

"Norfolk Southern has responded to a derailment in Lower Saucon Township, PA. There is no threat to the public, no hazardous material concerns from the railcars, and no reports of injuries to our crew members. We appreciate the quick, professional response by local emergency agencies. Our crews and contractors will remain on-scene over the coming days to cleanup, and we appreciate the public's patience while they work as quickly, thoroughly, and as safely as possible. We are always working to advance safety. We will investigate this incident to understand how it happened and prevent others like it."

NTSB said on X that it is now investigating "the collision and derailment involving three Norfolk Southern trains." The investigative agency said they will send in "a team comprised of experts in train operations, signals & train control, mechanical systems, and human performance." The group is expected to arrive later Saturday.

"I'm very concerned about this because we in Northampton County have one of the busiest sections of Norfolk Southern Commercial System," Northampton County Executive Lamont McClure told CBS News Philadelphia. "So, it is very important that Norfolk Southern working with NTSB and the state government figure out what happened and make sure it doesn't happen again."

McClure previously said on social media earlier Saturday nothing appeared to be leaking from the containers on the train. Later statements from police mentioned the diesel fuel and polypropylene.

"Norfolk Southern is on site and is doing an assessment. The most important thing we can do for our first responders is stay away from the site!" the county's Facebook post timestamped just before 8:30 a.m. said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was called out to the scene along with the PA Fish Commission and responders from local fire and EMS crews in both Northampton and Lehigh Counties, Barndt said.

Gov. Josh Shapiro said the Pennsylvania DEP and Emergency Management Agency will continue to monitor the situation, in a statement on X.

"Train derailments put Pennsylvania communities at risk. We need to pass the Railway Safety Act now," Sen. Bob Casey posted on X in response to this morning's events.

Todd Costello lives about seven miles away from the derailment and walked by the scene Saturday afternoon after hearing about the wreckage.

"Thank God no one got hurt," Costello said. "They contained the area. Seems like they contained it pretty good and hopefully everybody is okay."

Norfolk Southern has come under fire in the past year over multiple train derailments, the most notable in East Palestine, Ohio when 38 cars of a 151-car train carrying hazardous materials derailed and 12 others caught fire. Since then, residents of the eastern Ohio town have reported health problems and there have also been wildlife deaths.

There was also a derailment on April 8 in Pittsburgh and another on May 10 in New Castle, Ohio.

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