Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, drank a glass of East Palestine, Ohio, tap water in front of reporters at a media round-table on Thursday while promising to clear the scene of a horrific train derailment and contribute to rebuilding the community.
According to Shaw, he is sorry for what happened and wants to make it right.
“I am terribly sorry that this has happened, very sorry. And I want to make sure Norfolk Southern does the right thing. And I am going to see this through. I am not going anywhere. No matter what happens and no matter what it takes,” Shaw said.
On February 3rd, 50 train carriages, 10 of which were carrying hazardous materials, derailed as a result of a technical problem with a rail car axle, according to federal authorities. There was vinyl chloride in five of the vehicles. Hundreds of residents evacuated due to the controlled release of poisonous gasses that Norfolk Southern carried out on February 6th to stop an explosion.
Officials told East Palestine residents on February 8th that they could safely go home, despite the reports of hundreds of dead fish in the Ohio river near East Palestine and residents complaining of headaches and illness since the derailment.
There have also been a growing number of reports of health concerns from residents following the derailment. Some residents last month said medical professionals had diagnosed them with bronchitis, lung issues, and rashes that doctors and nurses suspect are linked to the chemical exposure.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against Norfolk Southern, saying that the derailment, which wreaked havoc on the environment and negatively impacted the health of residents, was “entirely avoidable.”
According to Yost, the lawsuit seeks to make the company pay for future groundwater and soil monitoring and economic losses in the village of East Palestine and the surrounding areas.
“The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate throughout Ohio for many years to come,” Yost had said.
Shaw stated that Norfolk Southern is establishing funding to address issues related to property values, health care, and water monitoring, which he claims are the three main problems East Palestine people have expressed.
Shaw defended the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency‘s findings that the air and water do not seem to be poisoned when asked about individuals who spend time in East Palestine and claim to have experienced rashes, headaches, and watery eyes.
“There’s hundreds of tests, millions of data points, that say the water is clean. I’m not a doctor by any stretch, but I am listening,” Shaw said.
Shaw also stressed that the EPA did not order Norfolk Southern to remove the contaminated soil from beneath its train tracks.
“We reacted very, very quickly. It really bothered [residents] that we weren’t taking up the soil under the tracks. And we listened … I got feedback and I adjusted,” Shaw said.
Government officials say that testing conducted over the past month has not shown any hazardous chemical concentrations in the area’s air or water. When asked what he would do if he lived in East Palestine, Shaw said he trusts the “science.”
“I would absolutely stay. It’s safe. I trust the science. I trust the data. I trust the U.S. EPA. I trust the Ohio EPA. I trust the Pennsylvania DEP and I trust the local health officials. All the tests, no matter who is administering them, have come back with the same data points. Million and millions of data points are saying it’s safe. I would absolutely stay here,” Shaw said.
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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Alan Shaw” by Norfolk Southern Corp.