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NTSB: East Palestine explosion unnecessary

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J.D. Davidson

(The Center Square) – The head of the National Transportation Safety Board said Wednesday the controlled chemical explosion following the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment more than a year ago was unnecessary.

Under questioning from U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, board Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy also said Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and incident commanders on the scene were not given complete information before executing the explosion near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border that they said was needed to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

“This town very well may have been poisoned to facilitate the rapid movement of freight, or at the very least, it was poisoned for reasons that we can't identify. That should really concern every single person on this committee,” Vance said during his questioning of Homendy at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

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Homendy said temperatures in the cars containing hazardous chemicals were declining and stabilizing and agreed with Vance’s characterization that an explosion wasn’t necessary.

“That’s correct. In order for polymerization to occur, which was Norfolk Southern and their contractors’ justification for the vent and burn, you would have to have rapidly increasing temperatures and some sort of infusion of oxygen, neither of which occurred,” Homendy testified.

Two days after a Norfolk Southern train derailed in East Palestine  February 3, 2023, a vent and burn was conducted on five tank cars carrying vinyl chloride.

Vance said the NTSB revealed the recommendation of Norfolk Southern’s contractors to do the burn came with scientific basis, disregarded temperature data and contradicted expert feedback.

The Transportation Board also said DeWine and other local leaders were unaware of those facts.

“Rightfully, Norfolk Southern's contractors had ruled out hot tapping and transloading because it would have been a potential safety issue for their employees, but there was another option: let it cool down,” Homendy said. “So Oxy Vinyls was on scene providing information to Norfolk Southern's contractor who was in the room when the decision was made, and when advice was given to the governor of Ohio, to the incident commander, they were not given full information because no one was told Oxy Vinyls was on scene. They were left out of the room. The incident commander didn't even know they existed. Neither did the governor. So, they were provided incomplete information to make a decision.