Workers Cleaning Ohio Train Derailment Site Are Getting Sick

Leaders of railroad unions told the Biden administration that rail workers cleaning up the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, are getting sick.

Union leader Jonathon Long wrote that in the days following the derailment, Norfolk Southern, a transportation company, directed 40 rail workers to clean the crash site. Workers reported that the company failed to provide personal protective equipment (PPE).

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told CNBC that the company coordinated its response “with hazardous material professionals who were on site continuously to ensure the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was utilized, all in addition to air monitoring that was established within an hour.”

Long told The New Republic that workers asked for better respirators, but “none of the good ones were left.”

Presidents from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to discuss the derailment and express concern over the chemicals that spilled in East Palestine, shown to cause cancer.

“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, said of his meeting with Buttigieg.

“Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day. The railroaders’ labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so,” he added.

The meeting comes after labor leaders stated that workers cleaning up the toxic train derailment site have fallen ill with “migraines and nausea.”

“I have received reports that [Norfolk Southern] neither offered nor provided these workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators that are designed to permit safely working around vinyl chloride, eye protection and protective clothing such as chemical retrain suits,” the American Rail System Federation wrote in a letter to Buttigieg.

“This lack of concern for the workers’ safety and well-being is, again, a basic tenet of NS’s cost-cutting business model,” the letter stated.

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and J.D. Vance (R-OH) introduced legislation to prevent rail disasters after the incident in East Palestine.

“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again,” Vance said in a statement. “We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would create stricter safety requirements for trains carrying hazardous materials and increase the frequency of inspections.

President Joe Biden said he has no plans to visit the train derailment site.