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Norfolk Southern workforce falling ill at the crash site

Norfolk SouthernA Norfolk Southern derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, about a month ago, spilled dangerous chemicals.

For weeks, the firm and government have been attempting to resolve the issue.

People in nearby communities were compelled to escape, but later returned citing health concerns.

Employees at the scene of the Norfolk Southern disaster are supposedly becoming extremely ill.

The news

On Wednesday, twelve union representatives met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration Administrator Amit Bose in Washington, DC.

They gathered to discuss the accident, its consequences, and the need for immediate safety procedures.

According to Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen:

“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail.”

“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.”

Buttigieg, according to Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail, and Transportation Workers, plans to meet with unions again.

“This was a good start,” he said. “It’s important these safety issues are addressed. No one wants another East Palestine.”

“The safety discussion of employees must be addressed. The running of these long trains was a point of discussion as well.”

The letter

The meetings are in response to a letter addressed to the DOT and the FRA on Wednesday by union representatives claiming that rail employees grew ill at the site of the Norfolk Southern disaster.

The general chairman of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters’ American Rail System Federation addressed it to the following individuals:

  • Pete Buttigieg
  • Amit Bose
  • East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway
  • Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine

According to the letter, Norfolk Southern train personnel who have worked on or are currently working on the cleaning are suffering from headaches and nausea.

One worker allegedly sought a transfer due to his symptoms, but his management did not respond, and he was left to work at the crash scene.

Workers were not given with the necessary personal protective equipment, according to the letter:

  • Respirators
  • Eye protection
  • Protective clothing

Read also: East Palestine becomes GOP’s next focus

Moreover, union organizers reported that 35 to 40 employees were working on the train without necessary breathing apparatus, coverups, boots, or rubber gloves.

They were clad just in paper and N95 masks.

A Norfolk Southern spokesperson afterwards stated that the firm arrived at the disaster scene swiftly to coordinate their reaction.

The organization worked with hazardous material experts to verify that the venue was accessible and that the proper PPE was utilized.

Safety act

After the Norfolk Southern incident, a bipartisan group of senators submitted legislation to avoid railway accidents on Wednesday.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 establishes strict security restrictions for trains hauling hazardous materials.

It will also enhance the frequency with which railway cars are assessed.

Furthermore, the Act mandates competent two-person crews on trains hauling hazardous substances and imposes fines for disobedience.

Following the disaster of the Norfolk Southern, Republican and Democratic senators pressured Biden administration officials to prioritize addressing the issue.

Former President Donald Trump was likewise chastised by several Democrats for repealing railway safety measures while he was still in office.

Democratic Senator Sherrod Brown issued the following statement:

“It shouldn’t take a massive railroad disaster for elected officials to put partisanship aside and work together for the people we serve – not corporations like Norfolk Southern.”

Brown will co-introduce the measure with Ohio Republican Senator JD Vance.

The following persons also support the law:

  • Bob Casey, D-Pa.
  • John Fetterman, D-Pa.
  • Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
  • Josh Hawley, R-Mo.

“Through this legislation, Congress has a real opportunity to ensure that what happened in East Palestine will never happen again,” said Vance.

“We owe every American the peace of mind that their community is protected from a catastrophe of this kind.”

Mike Baldwin also voiced his support for the bill, saying:

“If this legislation is adopted, the [Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen] supports those efforts and looks forward to working collaboratively on common sense regulations that continue to improve safety.”

Image source: ABC News

Opinions expressed by Portland News contributors are their own.