Top 5 Bombshells From East Palestine Disaster Investigative Hearing: Norfolk Southern Didn't Need to Detonate Toxic Vinyl Chloride Cars
Norfolk Southern "made up their decision on what they were going to do and it was full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes," hazardous waste specialist Sil Caggiano says in response to hearings.
During the first National Transportation Safety Board [NTSB] investigative hearing on the Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine held Thursday, several bombshell revelations surfaced including shocking information that casts serious doubt on whether there was a real emergency situation that required the railroad company to detonate five cars of toxic vinyl chloride over the small town of 4,700 residents.
Status Coup went through the Thursday June 22nd hearing and the first parts of the Friday June 23rd hearing. Below are the top five bombshell revelations.
Norfolk Southern Sent Manifest to Its Sketchy Contractor Hour Before First Responders
For months, a top concern expressed to Status Coup among first responders who responded to the fire produced after the February 3rd derailment was that it took hours after the fire started for firefighters to learn they were dealing with toxic hazardous chemicals in the fire they were trying to put out.
In Thursday’s hearing, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy laid out the timeline for how long it took Norfolk Southern to send emergency first responders the train manifest with all order and nature of chemicals in the 38 cars that came off the rails—11 of which contained hazardous chemicals.
Homendy revealed that Norfolk Southern first sent the manifest to its contractor CTEH—a company with a questionable track record for accuracy and credibility in air testing post-disasters—at 9:08pm, which was 14 minutes after the derailment.
But it took much longer for emergency first responders to be provided the manifest from Norfolk Southern.
Between 9:45pm and 10pm est-East Palestine deputy fire chief received it
9:56pm est- Columbiana County emergency management agency received the manifest via email from Norfolk Southern (over an hour after derailment)
10:23pm est- East Palestine Police Chief William Jones received it, not from Norfolk Southern but from Columbiana County emergency management agency
1:30am est- East Palestine police department received it
2:15am est-East Palestine fire chief Keith Drabick—who was out of town on vacation during the first few hours of the fire after the derailment—found printed manifest at the command post sitting on a desk.
“How is it that Norfolk Southern could provide the contractors responsible for cleanup with the information within 12 minutes of the derailment and took an hour to several hours before providing it to emergency responders?” Homendy asked Scott Deutsch, Norfolk Southern’s Regional Manager for Hazardous Materials.
Deutsch couldn’t provide a real answer: “I can’t explain the timeframe.”
Jack Vankirk, a former firefighter with the Chippewa Pennsylvania Fire Department, told Status Coup that Norfolk Southern getting its contractor the manifest an hour before first responders was “completely out of order.”
“First responders should have been the first to receive the manifest obviously considering they are the ones on scene dealing with it that makes absolutely no sense why they would send information to a cleanup crew before sending it to the people on scene. “I’ve never heard of them delaying information like this before. To me it sounds like they knew this was something that could have been prevented, and they were trying their best to cover their tracks and not get blamed for anything.”
Norfolk Southern Did Not Inspect The Train Car Before It Derailed in East Palestine
In a revealing exchange from Friday’s hearing, NTSB officials questioned Jason Cox, the national representative with the Transportation Communications Union, about the nature of railroad car inspections. Cox revealed the 150 train car was never inspected by Norfolk Southern before the derailment.
“My understanding of the record is when Norfolk Southern first received the car there was no inspection done,” Cox explained. “The car came from another railroad and traditionally there would be an interchange inspection and the cars would be looked at,” he continued, explaining that because there are less Class 1 railroads in existence, those inspections are occurring less and less.
Cox stated that no Norfolk Southern employee inspected the car in which a wheel bearing overheated and failed from the time Norfolk Southern received the train in Decatur, Illinois through the derailment in East Palestine.
He then went through the train’s path—Decatur, Illinois; Toledo, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; and Bellevue, Ohio—but explained there was no inspections done at any of these stops.
“There are qualified mechanical inspectors at all these points and they were not allowed to inspect this car at any of these locations,” Cox said.
East Palestine Fire Chief Was Given 13 Minutes to Decide Whether to Detonate Vinyl Chloride Cars
East Palestine fire chief Keith Drabick, who was not on-the-ground for the first few hours after the derailment and fire since he was out of town on vacation, told NTSB authorities he was given a shockingly short amount of time to decide whether to conduct a “vent and burn,” or more simply put, detonate five cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride over East Palestine.
“When we got taken down to that room, we were told we had 13 minutes to make that decision and that had to do with convergence with the weather and the transitioning from day to night and the product and believed in its believed to be what state it was it in and the process it was going through.”
Temperatures outside Toxic Vinyl Chloride cars were DROPPING at time Norfolk Southern detonated the cars
During Thursday’s hearing, an NTSB official showed a graph showing the surface temperature outside the vinyl chloride cars after the derailment up into the time they detonated was dropping—contradicting Norfolk Southern’s claims that car temperatures were heating up so much there was risk of an imminent uncontrolled explosion threatening residents’ lives.
“Would you agree with the one spike in temperature during the middle of the night it appears that the temperature was on a downward or a decreasing trend?”
A Norfolk Southern official acknowledged the external temperatures outside the cars were dropping but that polymerization was not the only thing that concerned them
“I am not understanding your answer,” the NTSB official said. The NTSB official provided an answer that, frankly, said a lot of intelligent sounding words but didn’t account for why Norfolk Southern felt an emergency need to detonate five cars of toxic vinyl chloride when the temperatures were going down.
“My answer is there’s no way to tell for sure based strictly on an external temperature of the tank that doesn’t discount any of the other problems that are a concern of that tank from heat damage to mechanical damage because this is a pressurized liquified flammable gas,” the Norfolk Southern official said.
A separate Norfolk Southern contractor said they had “conflicting” data and stressed that he had 35 years of experience when defending Norfolk Southern’s decision to detonate five cars of vinyl chloride over East Palestine.
Sil Caggiano, a hazardous waste specialist who served as a firefighter with Youngstown Ohio fire department for 39 years, condemned Norfolk Southern following the hearing.
“They had no evidence of anything,” Caggiano told Status Coup. He also pointed out that investigators found no traces of PVC in any of the samples they looked at. “That particular vinyl chloride is being shipped to make PVC pipe, so if it polymerizes, if it expands, if it becomes what it’s going to become, it going to become poly vinyl chloride. They found none of that at all.”
Translated for folks who failed chemistry: there was no evidence the train cars carrying vinyl chloride were polymerizing, or the chemicals were not heating up and expanding to the point where the cars would explode.
Vinyl Chloride Manufacturer REPEATEDLY Told Norfolk Southern No Need to Detonate VC Cars
In what might become the smoking gun—and star witness in any potential criminal prosecution against Norfolk Southern—Paul Thomas, vice president of health, environment, safety and security at OxyVinyls, the manufacturer of the vinyl chloride that was detonated—revealed that on three separate occasions leading up to the detonation of the vinyl chloride cars, he told Norfolk Southern the cars were not polymerizing and at risk of an imminent uncontrolled explosion (watch clip at the end of story).
OxyVinyls, who sent a technical team to East Palestine, told Norfolk Southern on the evening of February 4th (Saturday), that stabilized vinyl chloride would be unlikely to “spontaneously polymerize under the conditions described to us by Norfolk Southern and its contractors. The vinyl chloride manufacturer again told Norfolk Southern on the morning of February 5th (Sunday) that “polymerization was not occurring during a call with Norfolk Southern representatives.” On the evening of February 5th, OxyVinyls “for the third time” polymerization of vinyl chloride was not occurrring.
Thomas also revealed that Norfolk Southern did not include the company—again the manufacturer of the actual chemicals Norfolk Southern and emergency responders were worried about potentially exploding—were not included in emergency response meetings or communications.
“I want to emphasize that we did not have direct access to real-time information regarding conditions at the derailment site. We were not part of the unified incident command and we did not participate in or recommend the decision on the vent and burn operation.”
Hazardous waste specialist Caggiano relayed how dumbfounding and stunning this was.
“What other data are you going to get that is going to be better than the chemist who is in charge of the manufacturing of the product that is in those cars?” Caggiano noted in reference to Norfolk Southern excluding the manufacturer of the chemical from emergency deliberations and the decision to detonate the cars.
“To me, everything that I heard yesterday led me to believe [Norfolk Southern] made up their decision on what they were going to do and it was full speed ahead, damn the torpedoes.”
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