Rail Union Says Workers Getting Sick After East Palestine Derailment

Railway workers who helped clean up the wreckage of the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio last month have been suffering from health issues such as migraines and nausea, according to a union representative.

Jonathan Long, a Norfolk Southern Railway employee for nearly 30 years and the general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (BMWED), made the claim in a letter (pdf) to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine on March 1.

BMWED represents nearly 3,000 employees who construct, maintain, inspect, and repair railroad tracks and bridges on Norfolk Southern (NS) railroad.

In his letter, Long took aim at the operator of the derailed train, accusing it of disregarding the safety of employees dispatched to the site where rail cars containing hazardous materials had come off the tracks.

The derailment sent toxic chemicals spilling and a subsequent controlled burn of the chemicals, including vinyl chloride, sent a thick cloud of smoke into the air. Vinyl chloride can cause a rare form of liver cancer after long-term exposure.

“I am writing to share with you the level of disregard that Norfolk Southern has for the safety of the railroad’s Workers, its track structure, and East Palestine and other American communities where NS operates,” Long wrote. “I am also imploring you as the Governor of the State of Ohio to use your influence and power to stop NS’s reckless business practices that endanger the public and their Workers.”

‘Horrors Occurring in East Palestine’

“While the world was learning about the horrors occurring in East Palestine on television, NS officials assessed the damages and carried out their plans for rebuilding their track structure so that they could get trains moving again,” Long wrote.

According to the union leader, 40 Norfolk Southern workers were ordered to aid with the cleanup of the East Palestine derailment last month.

However, the workers were allegedly not offered or provided with appropriate personal protective equipment by Norfolk Southern, including respirators that are designed to allow them to safely work around vinyl chloride, protective eye wear or other protective clothing such as chemical restraint suits, rubber overboots, and rubber gloves designed to be used around spilled chemicals.

“When some of the NS Workers inquired about the appropriateness of their personal protective equipment [PPE] and the safety of their working conditions, they would receive little or no response from NS officials,” Long said.

He then went on to claim that one Norfolk Southern worker had contacted his supervisor and requested to be removed from working at the derailment site owing to concerns over his safety caused by “the exposure to the chemicals which were causing him nausea and migraines.”

According to Long, though, that employee never got a response from his supervisor and was left to continue working on the derailment site.

Workers Allegedly ‘Willingly Exposed’ to Chemicals

“Many other Employees 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 NS,” Long said.

East Palestine residents have also claimed to suffer similar symptoms since returning to their homes after the derailment, as well as rashes and a burning sensation in their lungs and eyes. Others say they’ve been diagnosed with bronchitis associated with exposure to chemicals.

Despite their concerns, health officials, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have said that testing shows the air and drinking water in the area are safe.

However, researchers with Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon University said last week that air monitoring showed that 9 out of 50 chemicals tested were at higher-than-normal levels and that if those levels continue, they may be a health concern.

Norfolk Southern denied claims that its workers in East Palestine were not provided with proper personal protective equipment while aiding in the cleanup.

“In East Palestine, Norfolk Southern was 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,” the company said in a statement to The Hill.

The Epoch Times has contacted Norfolk Southern for comment.

Norfolk Southern is set to attend a public meeting with residents of East Palestine on Thursday, nearly four weeks after the toxic train disaster, at the request of the EPA. In February, the train operator failed to show up to a town hall meeting with residents and officials, citing safety concerns.

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