State And Regional

State responds to NTSB testimony saying East Palestine controlled burn was unnecessary

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — An NTSB Official testified in a Congressional hearing that the huge fireball after the train derailment in East Palestine did not need to happen.

The massive black smoke plume from a controlled burn and release of toxic chemicals is what most people remember from the East Palestine Derailment.

On Wednesday, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy testified before the Senate that that controlled burn was unnecessary.

“They had to make a decision in less than 13 minutes to blow up all five of these toxic chemical cars without any other voices being included to offer a contrary opinion, is that right?” Ohio Senator JD Vance said during the hearing.

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“NTSB Chair Homendy testified yesterday that neither Governor DeWine nor incident command were ever presented with a scenario from experts that a controlled vent and release was unnecessary to prevent a catastrophic explosion. They were also not presented any scenario where, if officials did nothing, the train cars would not explode catastrophically,” Gov. DeWine’s office said in a statement on Thursday. “Governor DeWine spent hours with incident command and Norfolk Southern contractors on the day of the release and asked numerous questions to understand the facts. No one—not one single expert—opined that day about there being any other scenario occurring besides either a catastrophic explosion or a controlled release to prevent such an explosion.”

News Center 7′s John Bedell reached out to Gov. DeWine’s Office for comment because of an exchange between Chair Homendy and Sen. Vance during the congressional hearing.

“My line of questioning, I just want to be clear here, is not a criticism of the incident commander or of the governor,” Sen. Vance said.

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Instead, Sen. Vance said he was criticizing people on the ground who Vance and the NTSB Chair said provided “inadequate information.”

Homendy testified the controlled burn was not necessary to stop something catastrophic from happening because temperatures inside the rail cars were not increasing as was feared, instead, they were cooling.

She said the shippers in charge of the rail cars, Oxy Vinyls, said the temperatures were too low to even cause an explosion.

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“Oxy Vinyls was on scene providing information to Norfolk Southern’s contractor who was in the room when the decision was made, and when advice was given to the governor of Ohio, to the incident commander, they were not given full information because no one was told Oxy Vinyls was on scene,” Homendy said. “They were left out of the room. The incident commander didn’t even know they existed. Neither did the governor. So they were provided incomplete information to make a decision.”

News Center 7 also reached out to Norfolk Southern for comment. The company did not address the NTSB Chair’s testimony that OXy Vinyls was left out of the room. Still, they did say that the decision to go with the controlled release was made by the incident commander with input from all kinds of authorities.

“The final decision to conduct a controlled release was made by the Incident Commander, with input from multiple stakeholders, including Norfolk Southern and local, state, and federal authorities. The top priority of everyone involved was the safety of the community, as well as limiting the impact of the incident,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement. “The successful controlled release prevented a potentially catastrophic uncontrolled explosion that could have caused significant damage for the community. To date, continuous environmental testing in coordination with and alongside US and Ohio EPA has shown the air and drinking water in the community are safe.”

The NTSB is expected to release its final report into the derailment and response by early summer.

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