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March 26, 2023
The presidents of several United States rail unions have informed Biden administration officials that rail workers have fallen ill at the Norfolk Southern derailment site in East Palestine, Ohio.
Leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Amit Bose, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to discuss the derailment, the immediate aftermath and safety methods that can be utilized to avoid another such occurrence.
“My hope is the stakeholders in this industry can work towards the same goals related to safety when transporting hazardous materials by rail,” said Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen. “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.”
Jeremy Ferguson, who ispresident of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers — Transportation Division, told CNBC that Buttigieg has agreed to hold further discussions with unions.
“This was a good start,” said Ferguson. “It’s important these safety issues are addressed. No one wants another East Palestine. The safety discussion of employees must be addressed. The running of these long trains was a point of discussion as well.”
The meeting following letters sent to both the DOT and the FRA on Wednesday in which union representations expressed concerns about the health of their workers at the derailment site. CNBC obtained the letters, which were addressed to Buttigieg, Bose, East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway and Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, from the general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters.
According to the letter, Norfolk Southern rail workers who have worked or continue to work the cleanup site have reported symptoms such as “migraines and nausea.” One worker reportedly asked his supervisor to be transferred off the derailment site due to his symptoms, but did not received a response and was left at the site.
The letter also claims workers have not been given adequate personal protective equipment such as respirators, eye protection or protective clothing. According to union representatives, 35 to 40 workers were on the track and were not supplied with correct breathing apparatuses — only paper and N95 masks, or rubber gloves, boots or coverups.
A Norfolk Southern spokesperson told CNBC in a statement that the train company was “on-scene immediately after the derailment and coordinated our response with hazardous material professionals who were on site continuously to ensure the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was utilized, all in addition to air monitoring that was established within an hour.”
Earlier on Wednesday, a group of bipartisan senators introduced The Railway Safety Act of 2023, which is aimed at preventing future accidents.
The legislation includes a number of safety protocols for the transportation of hazardous materials. The legislation will also require two-person crews working on railroads and fines for improper conduct.
ARTICLE: PAUL MURDOCH
MANAGING EDITOR: LUKE MOCHERMAN
PHOTO CREDIT: NBC NEWS