Adding to the health problems being experienced by residents of East Palestine, Ohio are some of Norfolk Southern's workers. The American Railway System Federation (ARSF) reported that employees of the operator of the derailed train are getting sick, experiencing nausea and migraines.
In a letter sent to the federal administration accessed by CNBC, the rail unions alleged that their workers do not have the necessary protective equipment such as oxygen canisters or rubber boots and gloves to clean up the toxic spill. They argue that this that should be provided by Norfolk Southern to protect their employees. ARSF representative Jonathan Long said:
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 [Norfolk Southern]. ... When some of the NS workers inquired about the appropriateness of their personal protective equipment and the safety of their working conditions, they would receive little or no response from NS officials.
The union representative pointed out that the lack of protective equipment for employees is due to Norfolk Southern's "cost-cutting business model." In addition, Long called on Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to establish new regulations to help prevent future accidents similar to the one in East Palestine.
Possible presence of carcinogenic substances
The spill may have released dioxins, a compound that is highly toxic and can increase the risk of cancer, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
Stephen Lester, scientific director of the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), criticized the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for not conducting proper inspections to find out whether dioxins were released in the derailment. In a statement to WKBN-TV, he said, "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."
The EPA defended itself by saying that dioxins are always present in nature, something that is corroborated by the WHO. Debra Shore, regional administrator for the federal agency, said:
Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident. They will be here after, and we don't have baseline information from this area to do a proper test, but we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it.
Meeting with Buttigieg
This Wednesday, twelve unions met with Buttigieg and Amit Bose, manager of the Federal Railroad Administration, to implement health safety improvements for workers clearing the affected land.
Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, appreciated the importance of the meeting with the secretary of transportation and hopes for positive results:
My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail. Today’s meeting is an opportunity for labor to share what our members are seeing and dealing with day to day. The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.
According to Norfolk Southern, the air is clean and the water is safe to drink
According to the latest update on the status of East Palestine, Norfolk Southern noted that tests show that municipal water remains safe to drink, as does water from private wells. In addition, the air remains clean, without any risk to residents.