HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — The State House explored the responses of various state agencies regarding the toxic train derailment on the Ohio border.
Nearly six weeks have passed since the crash, and the concern lingers for the health of people, wildlife, the water, and the land. Making things right will take quite some time, according to lawmakers.
“The emergency may be over but the effects in Beaver County will remain for a long time,” said Dan Camp, a Beaver County Commissioner.
The costs surrounding the derailment will likely continue to rise, but officials testified that all air, water, and soil tests have been good so far.
“All of them show no measurements that have exceeded safety thresholds on short-term incident exposure,” said Acting Secretary Richard Negrin of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
But is the state simply trusting Norfolk Southern’s test results? Officials insist they are not.
“They [Norfolk Southern] used a contractor that they use everywhere. Who makes a lot of money working for Norfolk Southern, who then sends it to a lab who does a lot of work for Norfolk Southern, which is why we did independent testing for the first time ever,” said Negrin.
“I think that is the right response from state agencies. We should trust, but verify, everything out of Norfolk Southern camp,” said Rep. Nick Pisciottano (D-Allegheny County).
In a health survey, approximately 80 percent reported ear, nose and throat irritation.
“Whether those symptoms have resolved at this point, I don’t have that information,” said Acting Secretary Debra Bogen of the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Farmers are worried, questioning if they should plant or if the soil is tainted.
One beef farmer said customers are already canceling orders.
“You have all the money invested up until the point of taking that animal to butcher, and when that customer cancels your expense is ongoing,” said Mike Carreon, a farmer in Darlington Township.
“No one has talked about Norfolk Southern’s resources being available to cover agricultural losses. And I think we are pursuing, by the way,” said Russel Redding, secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture.
The director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), Randy Padfield, said Norfolk Southern offered no alternatives to burning five train cars instead of one and left officials no choice but to go along.
“Is the decision being made based on a business practice? That is the concern,” said Padfield.
“It sounds as if the decision of what to do was just made by Norfolk Southern. Have we just given away our rights to do anything about these railroads that go through our communities?” asked Rep. Abigail Salisbury (D-Allegheny County).
Norfolk Southern’s CEO, Alan Shaw, is scheduled to testify at a State Senate committee hearing in Harrisburg on Monday, March 20.