(Christen Smith, The Center Square) A Pennsylvania Senate panel will gather Wednesday to consider subpoenaing Norfolk Southern after its chief executive officer ignored an invitation to testify about the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment.
The vote would come one week after the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee heard from local residents living on both sides of the Ohio-Pennsylvania border about how their lives changed after Norfolk Southern completed a controlled burn of five train cars carrying vinyl chloride Feb. 6.
People in attendance at the Beaver County meeting complained of skin rashes, respiratory issues, headaches, a chemical smell in the air and anxiety over how the health of their families could be affected in the future, The Center Square previously reported.
Alan Shaw, the railroad’s CEO, declined to participate given Gov. Josh Shapiro’s pending inquiry into the emergency cleanup effort that unfolded after the train derailed on Feb. 3. The governor accused Norfolk Southern of ignoring best practices and prioritizing speed over safety to reopen the rail line faster.
State and local officials also told the committee Norfolk Southern’s cagey response plan left them in the dark about its “controlled release” plan – a term at least one testifier described as a corporate spin word meant to deflect from their decision to “drain all the cars and light them on fire in a ditch.’”
A Norfolk Southern spokeswoman told The Center Square the company remains committed to supporting residents affected by the derailment. But, Shaw’s absence at several public meetings and town halls in western Pennsylvania leave many residents feeling abandoned.
On Tuesday, the Shapiro administration said a clinic will open in Darlington, in northwestern Beaver County, to treat health problems arising from the accident.
Committee Chairman Sen. Doug Mastriano, R-Chambersburg, applauded the announcement in a statement released Tuesday, but said it shouldn’t have taken so long.
“I can’t help but ask why Ohio was able to open a clinic for its residents so much faster than Pennsylvania,” he said. “The delayed response to help Pennsylvanians has a long way to go.”
He added the residents still need filtered watered in enough quantities for their animals, too.
“Local residents began reporting health concerns within days following the train wreck, but it has taken nearly a month to meet their needs,” he said. “These people needed and deserved help sooner than this.”
The Shapiro administration said Monday the state Department of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began door-to-door visits on Sunday to administer chemical exposure surveys that will delve into symptoms, experiences and concerns. The outreach will begin with residents evacuated within the 1-mile radius of the derailment.
The Department of Environmental Protection will also perform its water sampling to monitor ongoing contamination risks.