Wednesday, June 26, 2024

NTSB: The East Palestine/Norfolk Southern vinyl chloride burn was not necessary

Via the Washington Post, this news: 

Norfolk Southern and its contractors overestimated the risk that five train cars could explode after the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment last year, leading to the unnecessary release and burn of chemicals, the National Transportation Safety Board found Tuesday at its final meeting on the incident.

The railway’s failure to quickly provide information to emergency responders after the derailment also unnecessarily exposed the public to hazards, the board found. In addition, chemical shippers’ use of a vulnerable model of train car that was punctured and spilled chemicals after derailing led to the fire that dramatically escalated the situation.

Tuesday’s meeting — where the NTSB approved the findings of its 17-month investigation into the Feb. 3, 2023 derailment — offered the most authoritative timeline yet of the decisions that caused a giant toxic plume to rise above the Ohio town in early 2023, which prompted alarm about environmental hazards and triggered a national debate about rail safety.

I'm genuinely sympathetic to the people who made the decision on the spot with first responders: 

...The push for vent-and-burn by Norfolk Southern and its contractors, however, disregarded the fact that the temperature in the car of concern began dropping, which should have signaled that the danger was waning, the board said.

Norfolk Southern also failed to provide the local fire chief and other officials with a key report from the chemicals’ manufacturer, who had inspected the train cars and determined that the probability of the worst-case scenario was low, investigators found. With incomplete information from Norfolk Southern, the NTSB said, local and state officials had only 13 minutes to decide whether to give the go-ahead.

...The crew was notified when the train passed a second detector, but they couldn’t stop the train in time to prevent derailing. After the cars went off the tracks, a punctured car spilled flammable butyl acrylate, which started a fire that spread more than 1,000 feet. That model of train car, the NTSB found, is being phased out for such use and won’t be eligible to carry butyl acrylate after May 2029... 

As I've said before, I think second-guessing the decisions of the people on the scene needed to wait for the NTSB report. Now that we're close to the issuance of the report, we can potentially begin to think about what first responders should do in the future, and what lessons can be learned. 


  1. Do you think it's safe to dispense the waste generated in your fume hood....OUTSIDE of the fumehood without any additional ventilation such as an elephant trunk?

  2. What does this comment even mean? It was an emergency situation. Even the 40 L reactor sitting in the walk-in next to me has a blowoff valve... Norfolk Southern's negligence and lack of preparedness has been widely documented and this NTSB report adds to the documentation of their negligence.


looks like Blogger doesn't work with anonymous comments from Chrome browsers at the moment - works in Microsoft Edge, or from Chrome with a Blogger account - sorry! CJ 3/21/20