Norfolk Southern CEO skips second town hall after Ohio toxic train derailment

The CEO of the rail company behind the toxic train derailment in Ohio was a no-show at a second community town hall on Thursday.

Alan H Shaw failed to appear at the public meeting in East Palestine as other Norfolk Southern representatives tried to appease local residents’ health fears.

The 38-car freight train derailment on 3 February led to hazardous substances leaking into the ground and waterways of the small commmunity. Due to concerns about a potential explosion of flammable liquids, a controlled burn of toxic vinyl chloride was also carried out, sending black clouds billowing across the region.

Local people who attended the town hall on Thursday spoke of breathing issues, vomiting and rashes since the incident. A number of residents demanded to be relocated.

“It’s not safe here,” one man told Norfolk Southern representatives, according to The Associated Press. “I’m begging you, by the grace of God, please get our people out of here.”

Darrell Wilson, the railroad’s assistant vice president of government relations, said that moving people out of East Palestine had not been part of the discussions. Mr Wilson also repeatedly apologised. “We feel horrible about it,” he said, of the derailment.

But those gathered were not so easily placated and questioned why Mr Shaw had failed to turn up. “Where’s Alan?” one person asked.

The Independent has emailed Norfolk Southern to enquire about Mr Shaw’s absence but did not receive a response. He previously visited East Palestine last month to meet with some local officials.

No one from Norfolk Southern attended a meeting in the town last month, citing fears for their safety.

“Norfolk Southern was invited, they pushed the table thing, then told me in a letter they didn’t feel safe and wouldn’t be coming,” East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway told The Independent.

A woman points her finger during the town hall held in East Palestine on Thursday (REUTERS)
A woman points her finger during the town hall held in East Palestine on Thursday (REUTERS)

Mr Shaw is set to testify before the US Congress next week about the derailment and what safety measures should be put in place to prevent another one.

Norfolk Southern and other major rail companies have “spent millions of dollars in the courts and lobbying members of Congress to oppose common-sense safety regulations, stopping some entirely and reducing the scope of others,” according to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg.

The company is in the process of shipping contaminated soil and liquids from East Palestine to be disposed of at other locations around the US.

This week, the US Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing Norfolk Southern’s clean-up of the disaster, said it has now ordered the company to test for dioxins in the area.

Dioxins are chemical compounds caused by combustion and could have been released when the controlled burn was carried out. The substances are hazardous to human health and can linger in the environment for a long time.