As union leaders met with federal officials in Washington to discuss railroad safety, one union leader said workers assigned to the cleanup of the Norfolk Southern train that derailed Feb. 3 in East Palestine, Ohio, are falling ill.
Leaders of 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in D.C. on Wednesday to talk about the derailment, its aftermath and needed safety improvements, according to CNBC.
“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen.
“Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day,” Baldwin said. “The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.”
The meeting came as a letter from Jonathon Long, general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, was sent to Buttigieg, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and other officials.
In the letter, dated Wednesday, Long said Norfolk Southern workers “reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of [Norfolk Southern].”
He said one worker begged to be moved off the site due to his symptoms, but that request never received a reply.
The letter also alleged that workers at the site were not provided with proper personal protective equipment.
“I have received reports that [Norfolk Southern] neither offered nor provided these workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators that are designed to permit safely working around vinyl chloride, eye protection and protective clothing such as chemical retrain suits,” Long wrote.
“This lack of concern for the workers’ safety and well-being is, again, a basic tenet of NS’s cost-cutting business model,” he said.
Norfolk Southern replied with a statement to CNBC that said “on-scene immediately after the derailment and coordinated our response with hazardous material professionals who were on site continuously to ensure the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was utilized, all in addition to air monitoring that was established within an hour.”
Long’s letter also bemoaned the current state of railroad operations, saying safety is being sacrificed in the name of profits.
He said what is known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading” is not about business efficiency, it is about “running longer, heavier behemoth trains that the track structures are not necessarily designed to handle.”
In his letter, Long cited a passage from the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after; they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
“The Bible scripture tells of the perils that happen when you put money above all,” he wrote. “[Norfolk Southern] has pierced itself, but it has somehow left communities like East Palestine and the NS Workers with many sorrows.
“This is immoral, and it is all because of the railroad’s cost-cutting model that disregards the sanctity of human life for the sake of more record profits.”
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The Environmental Protection Agency has said it will not test for dioxin, a chemical linked to cancer, in the region of the crash, according to WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Ohio.
“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have baseline information in this area to do a proper test. But, we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it,” EPA Region 5 administrator Debra Shore said.
Scientist Stephen Lester called that a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”
“I think they’re reluctant to test, because they know they will find it, and they will be put in a place where they have to address it,” said Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.