Train derailment open house coming to Beaver County

Federal and state agencies will host a community open house Thursday in Beaver County, and Norfolk Southern says they will be on site to answer questions from residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the event in an email Monday as an “an opportunity for residents to talk face-to-face and ask questions to representatives of responding agencies.”

The agency said it will also provide more details about the scientific equipment used to monitor air quality in the region.

The validity of testing results taken from air and soil samples have been questioned in recent weeks after five train cars carrying vinyl chloride derailed just miles from the Ohio-Pennsylvania border on Feb. 3.

Norfolk Southern has since faced intense scrutiny for its handling of the accident, including a decision to burn the contents of some of the derailed cars that many residents worry released harmful chemicals into local communities.

State Rep. Jim Marshall, R-Beaver Falls, said he’s heard from residents concerned about ill health effects, as well as farmers worried about tilling soil and losing customers who fear buying “tainted” meat.

The EPA said Tuesday it has collected 62 soil samples from nearby residences, commercial properties, recreational areas, and agricultural sites across Pennsylvania and Ohio.

The agency said its completed 615 home reentry screenings through March 12 and continues 24/7 air monitoring at 23 stations. No vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride has been detected.

But fear still persists in the region, Marshall said. That’s why ongoing efforts from state and federal officials matter, he added.

“Perception is reality,” he told The Center Square on Tuesday. “We are just trying to get information out to the people.”

Marshall, as well as representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Agriculture, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry of the CDC will also attend the open house.

Norfolk Southern’s presence comes after the railroad has missed several town halls and legislative hearings in Pennsylvania pending legal inquiries into the matter. Gov. Josh Shapiro, in a letter sent last month, accused the company of rushing to reopen the rail line at the expense of safety.

Last week, Shapiro said he brokered a $7.4 million aid deal with Norfolk Southern to reimburse first responders and community outreach programs in Beaver and Lawrence counties.

“Norfolk Southern must do better – and the entire cost of this derailment and its impact on the commonwealth must be picked up by them, not the people of Pennsylvania,” he said.

Alan Shaw, the railroad’s CEO, will appear before the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee on March 20 after lawmakers invoked subpoena powers to compel his testimony.

The open house will be held from 6-8 p.m. Thursday at the Darlington Township Volunteer Fire Department.

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