Another Norfolk Southern train derails; EPA chief vows accountability

Nearly two weeks after Ohio derailment, second Norfolk Southern train derails near Detroit with apparently lesser damages

A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Michigan on Thursday, the Atlanta-based company’s second significant incident this month following a devastating Ohio crash that caused an environmental calamity.

The latest derailment occurred in Van Buren Township, about 30 miles west of Detroit. There were no injuries and no hazardous materials were released into surrounding soils or waterways, according to Michigan environmental officials and the railroad.

“Norfolk Southern crews have responded and are working with our contractors at the site,” said Connor Spielmaker, a spokesman for the railroad.

One rail car with liquid chlorine was part of the train, state officials said, but it did not derail. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in a statement to The Hill that it is not investigating the train derailment in Van Buren Township.

The Michigan derailment was not as serious as the one in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3, which triggered an evacuation of the town. A controlled burn of toxic substances carried by the train caused the release of chemicals into the air, soil and water surrounding the community — contamination that has prompted community fears of long-term environmental and health damage.

The head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said the agency would hold the Atlanta-based railroad accountable for the Ohio crash.

“Let me be clear — EPA will exercise our oversight and our enforcement authority under the law to be sure we are getting the results that the community deserves and in coordination with the state,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said at a Thursday news conference. “We will be here as long as it takes to ensure the health and safety of the community.”

The EPA sent a notice of potential liability to Norfolk Southern’s deputy general counsel last week, outlining the agency’s cleanup actions and the potential to hold the railroad accountable for the cleanup or associated costs. The federal notice comes as some nearby residents have sued the railroad and others have raised fears about long-term environmental contamination.

In a visit to Ohio on Thursday, Regan tried to quell residents’ fears.

Regan spoke to a crowd of residents from the East Palestine area, a 5,000-person community near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line. He urged residents to trust the air and public water test results that followed the crash, which found both were safe.

“I’m asking they trust the government. I know that’s hard. We know there’s a lack of Trust,” Regan said, according to an Associated Press report. “We’re testing for everything that was on that train.”

Regan told the crowd that anyone who is fearful should seek testing from the government, although he said he would be willing to move his family back into the area as long as the testing showed it was safe.

“People have been unnerved,” he said. “They’ve been asked to leave their homes,” he said.

Norfolk Southern has come under intense scrutiny following the Ohio wreck. The company set up a Family Assistance Center and hired a contractor to take air quality samples for residents who want readings in their homes and testing of water from private wells.

The railroad also set up a $1 million community support fund that it says is “a down payment” on its rebuilding commitment.

But on Wednesday night, company representatives skipped a town hall meeting, citing personal safety concerns, sparking renewed criticism.

“I have three grandbabies,” said Kathy Dyke, who came with hundreds of her neighbors to a public meeting Wednesday where representatives of railroad operator Norfolk Southern were conspicuously absent.

“Are they going to grow up here in five years and have cancer?” she said, according to an AP report.

Alan Shaw, the CEO of Norfolk Southern, wrote a letter Thursday to the community, pledging to “help make things right” and said the company “will not let you down.”

“We will not walk away, East Palestine,” Shaw’s letter said.

“My simple answer is that we are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive. Our work is underway. Crews are cleaning the site thoroughly, responsibly, and safely. Our Family Assistance Center is helping community members meet immediate needs. Together with local health officials, we have implemented a comprehensive testing program to ensure the safety of East Palestine’s water, air, and soil. And we have established a $1 million community support fund as a down payment on our commitment to help rebuild.”

-Staff writer Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this report.