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Rail Workers Falling Ill at East Palestine Cleanup Site, Union Tells Biden Administration

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While union representatives gathered with government authorities in Washington to discuss railroad safety, one union leader said that employees assigned to clean up the Norfolk Southern train that crashed in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3 are becoming ill.

CNBC reports that on Wednesday, leaders of 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and the administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Amit Bose, to discuss the incident, its aftermath, and the need for safety reforms.

“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,” Baldwin said. “The railroaders labor represents are the employees who make it safe and they must have the tools to do so.”

Jonathon Long, general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, issued a letter to Buttigieg, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, and other authorities prior to the meeting.

In a letter dated Wednesday, Long stated that Norfolk Southern employees “reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect that they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of [Norfolk Southern].”

According to him, one worker asked to be relocated off the job site owing to his symptoms, but his request was never responded to.

In addition, the letter said that workers at the construction site were not equipped with adequate personal protective equipment.

“I have received reports that [Norfolk Southern] neither offered nor provided these workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators that are designed to permit safely working around vinyl chloride, eye protection and protective clothing such as chemical retrain suits,” Long wrote.

“This lack of concern for the workers’ safety and well-being is, again, a basic tenet of NS’s cost-cutting business model,” he said.

Norfolk Southern replied with a statement to CNBC that said “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.”

Long’s letter criticized the present condition of railroad operations, stating that safety is being sacrificed for profits.

He said what is known as “Precision Scheduled Railroading” is not about business efficiency, it is about “running longer, heavier behemoth trains that the track structures are not necessarily designed to handle.”

In his letter, Long cited a passage from the Bible, 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is the root of all evil; which while some coveted after; they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”

“The Bible scripture tells of the perils that happen when you put money above all,” he wrote. “[Norfolk Southern] has pierced itself, but it has somehow left communities like East Palestine and the NS Workers with many sorrows.

“This is immoral, and it is all because of the railroad’s cost-cutting model that disregards the sanctity of human life for the sake of more record profits.”

WKBN-TV in Youngstown, Ohio, reports that the Environmental Protection Agency would not test for dioxin, a chemical linked to cancer, in the area of the collision.

“Dioxins are ubiquitous in the environment. They were here before the accident, they will be here after, and we don’t have baseline information in this area to do a proper test. But, we are talking to our toxicologist and looking into it,” EPA Region 5 administrator Debra Shore said.

Scientist Stephen Lester called that a “lame excuse” and “wrong.”

“I think they’re reluctant to test, because they know they will find it, and they will be put in a place where they have to address it,” said Lester, science director at the Center for Health, Environment and Justice.

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