Ohio’s Democratic and Republican US Senators team up on East Palestine response

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Norfolk Southern must test for dioxins, which are toxic pollutants created when plastic is burned, around the site of its train derailment along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

That testing order from the US Environmental Protection Agency comes two weeks after Ohio’s two US Senators asked for dioxin testing in East Palestine.

US Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said he and freshman US Sen. JD Vance (R-OH) not only teamed up on the dioxins testing letter, they’ve also proposed legislation to make changes in railroad safety rules. They’re joined in sponsoring the Railway Safety Act of 2023 by Pennsylvania Democrats Bob Casey and John Fetterman and Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley.

Brown said he’s tired of the partisanship around the derailment and cleanup.

“The House of Representatives is threatening to impeach the Secretary of Transportation. That’s just not my concern,” Brown said in an interview. “My concern is what Senator Vance and I did, and that is write this bill, push for it, make sure Norfolk Southern pays up short term and long term.”

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 would, among other things:

  • create new safety procedures for trains carrying hazardous materials such as notifying state emergency response officials about what they’re carrying
  • increase rail car inspections
  • establish requirements for wayside defect detectors, which send warnings about wheel bearing failures
  • require trains carrying hazardous materials to be scanned by hotbox detectors every 10 miles
  • codify the requirement of two person crews in federal law
  • increase the maximum fine the federal government can issue for safety violations, expanding hazmat training grants for first responders through increased registration fees paid by class 1 railroads
  • provide tens of millions more in grants for wayside defect detectors and other rail priorities

And Brown said he and Vance are also pushing for long-term testing of water and air by the USEPA and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

“If there are illnesses two years, five years down the road, ten years, we want to make sure that’s covered,” Brown said. “And covered means that Norfolk Southern pays for all of this. And that means all of this: everything from testing to hotel stays to moving back into your home to rebuilding the fire station, which was right almost literally feet from the tracks, to these long term health concerns.”

Both senators have visited East Palestine, and Brown said he’ll be going back soon. Vance said he wants President Biden to visit, but Brown said he’s not concerned about that but focused on his own response.