BEAVER COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM) — As new information surrounding the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio is made available, federal investigators released a preliminary report that claims the train’s crew did not receive a critical warning about an overheated axle until right before dozens of train cars came off the tracks.
“I can tell you this much, this was 100 percent preventable,” said Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the National Transportation Safety Board.
Pennsylvania State Senators held a public hearing about the derailment, which was near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border, in Beaver County on Thursday, Feb. 23.
Both sides of the aisle severely criticized Norfolk Southern.
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Senator Doug Mastriano held the hearing to listen to concerned residents, who did not hold back. Pennsylvania Governor Josh Shapiro is in the process of filing a criminal referral to the attorney general’s office.
It has been three weeks since the accident, and according to the residents that live near the train derailment site, nothing is getting better.
“Living in pure panic and anxiety and anguish you just don’t know what to do,” said Lonni Miller, an impacted resident.
“We’re supposed to live in our house, get poisoned, and wait?” asked Jeff Dilamone, another resident at the hearing.
Many residents still fear toxic chemicals in the air and water and are begging public officials to do more.
“The overall lack of support from our elected officials has been nothing short of pathetic,” said a resident who wanted to remain unnamed.
The CEO of Norfolk Southern, who was invited to the hearing, was nowhere to be found, and leaders took turns berating the company.
“There’s a lot of bought and paid for politicians who refuse to take the necessary steps to keep us safe,” said Senator Katie Muth (D).
Shapiro recently announced that a criminal referral has been made against Norfolk Southern. The office of the attorney general will ultimately decide whether to press charges or not.
The Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office released a statement that said it will act quickly to investigate the incident, and will not hesitate to hold any company responsible for environmental crimes committed throughout Pennsylvania.
“They would have to take it through a grand jury to get an indictment, at which point there’d be a criminal proceeding,” said David Brooman, an environmental lawyer at High Schwartz LLP in Montgomery County.
Brooman says the attorney general’s office will likely start serving subpoenas but isn’t confident that anyone from Norfolk Southern will be indicted or even go to trial.
Oftentimes, situations like this are settled before a trial occurs, Brooman said. “I don’t think they’ll go felonies but, you know, there’s set multiple violations of environmental statutes and those environmental statutes are 25,000 per day per violation.”
If the attorney general’s office does choose to move forward with the charges, the process to hold Norfolk Southern accountable could take well over a year.