March 14, 2023

Impact of the Norfolk Southern Train Derailment

On March 14th, 2023, a bi-partisan hearing was held at the Darlington Township Volunteer Fire Department to discuss the impacts of the Norfolk Southern train derailment that occurred the night of February 3rd. The hearing was chaired by Republican Policy Chairman Josh Kail and Democrat Policy Chairman Ryan Bizzarro, and hosted by Rep. Jim Marshall (R-Beaver County) and Rep. Rob Matzie (D-Beaver County). The purpose of the hearing was to provide information to the public utilizing state experts and local officials, as residents of the Commonwealth are concerned and deserve answers. The hearing aimed to discuss the impacts to air, soil, and water following the derailment and containment efforts, and what the community at large can do to protect and inform themselves.

The hearing included testimony from six key individuals, each providing unique perspectives on the impact of the derailment, initial efforts to address the disaster, and long-term plans for the region. The Committees were joined by members of our State Agencies to speak to the results of ongoing testing, as well as local government officials to express the localized impact of the derailment. The two panels that joined the committees shared what has been discovered since the events of February 3rd, as well as what further efforts will be needed to make the community whole again.

The testifiers that joined the Bi-Partisan Policy Committees were as follows:

State Agencies
Randy Padfield - Director, PA Emergency Management Agency
Richard Negrin - Acting Secretary, PA Department of Environmental Protection
Dr. Debra L. Bogen - Acting Secretary, PA Department of Health
Russell Redding - Secretary, PA Department of Agriculture

Local Impact
Mike Carreon - Vice Chairman, Darlington Township Board of Supervisors
Daniel C. Camp, III - Chairman, Beaver County Board of Commissioners

Agenda – Bios – Testimony
State Agencies

Randy Padfield, the Director of the PA Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), was the first of our State Agency representatives to share insight with the bipartisan Policy Committee. PEMA reported that hundreds of first responders, two separate EPA regions, two separate FEMA regions, a private corporation, its contractors, along with federal, state, and local government agencies responded within 24 hours. The initial modeling of the derailment and subsequent “vent and burn” showed significant impact to the surrounding area, with excessive amounts of dangerous phosgene blanketing the region. The initial risk modelling was found to be grossly incorrect, with PEMA’s modeling of the potential risks finding that the concern of 70% phosgene conversions via a controlled burn was actually a 1% conversion. PEMA’s modeling quelled the largest concerns and showed that the true impact was significantly less than predicted, but still acknowledged the inherent risk with the proposed means to address the derailment and spill.

PEMA made clear that Norfolk Southern independently determined that a “vent and burn” was THE ONLY option to manage the vinyl chloride still within the tankers following the derailment. The vinyl chloride tankers surrounded by chemical fires risked a catastrophic explosion if the heat and pressure were not reduced in time. PA could determine when the “vent and burn” occurred (mid-day to be safest), but not if it could occur. PEMA expressed a suspicion that Norfolk Southern was not forthcoming about the true risks, particularly concerning the fact that on the night of February 3rd Ohio and Pennsylvania were told the risk stemmed from a single rail car, but by the very next day the fire was found to in fact encompass five railcars. Even with the derailment involving more cars than initially suspected PEMA’s immediate and continued response have helped limit the fallout and provide the emergency support people in the impacted region desperately need.

“To say that the incident was complex is a gross understatement.”

Randy Padfield Director,
PA Emergency Management Agency

Richard Negrin, the Acting Secretary of the PA Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), joined the committee to share the results of air monitoring conducted around the location of the derailment. Secretary Negrin reported that air quality monitoring began 2.5 hours after the derailment and continues to this day, with no plans to cease testing anytime soon. DEP has begun their testing of private wells within a 2-mile radius of the incident, and has completed their 1-mile assessment. Thus far, no contamination has been found which exceeds short-term exposure limits, but long-term exposure concerns will need to be assessed for at least a decade.

Initially, DEP received frequent inquiries surrounding why testing was only being conducted within a one and two mile radius of the derailment. Secretary Negrin explained that proximity matters, though any owner of a private well in the general vicinity can request free testing of their well. Within DEP’s testing efforts 100s of chemicals are being assessed using VOC and SVOC testing tools, as the department wants to assure that their findings are discovering contaminants that may be outside of what is assumed to have been emitted following the “vent and burn”. Secretary Negrin stressed that DEP is 0% reliant on the 3rd party testing results provided by Norfolk Southern, but has included their findings in state data once they have been independently verified by state labs. All-in-all, the results of air and water testing thus far have yielded results that should instill confidence in the quality of our air and water, particularly for the residents of Darlington Township, but public opinion has proven difficult to sway.

“Testing must continue, and we have no plans to stop.”

Richard Negrin
Acting Secretary, PA Department of Environmental Protection


Dr. Debra L. Bogen, the Acting Secretary of the PA Department of Health (DOH), joined the Committees to share insight into the utilization of state health resources and the results of health surveys that began shortly following the derailment. Thus far, DOH has reported that over 500 people have utilized the health resource center in Darlington Township. The health resource center within the Township is located in the Darlington Volunteer Fire Station, the same station that hosted the day’s hearing. The resource center will remain into the foreseeable future, and will act as a central location to compile survey results, conduct general inquiries, and serve as a general resource for the concerned local community.

Ongoing health surveys are being utilized by the DOH to assess health impacts following the derailment. Thus far 143 surveys of the general public have been completed, and have yielded the following results:
  •   85% of respondents reporting at least one symptom, primarily related to ear, nose, and throat issues.
  •   31% of respondents reported noting symptoms in their pets or livestock.
  •   68% of respondents are not planting a garden or crops this year out of concern.

Survey results specific to 1st responders have shown at least half of all fire and HAZMAT responders are experiencing ear, nose, and throat issue.

The results of the current round of surveys will determine future surveys, and residents will likely be consulted for a decade to determine long-term impacts of the derailment. DOH plans to maintain their utilization of local resources, faith leaders, and physicians to retain community trust in the region, and efforts to train health professionals in how to manage and assess concerns stemming from the derailment will continue as test results and surveys lead the department’s efforts.

“It takes a lot of time and positive experiences for people to gain trust, so it is really important that we empower the local community.”

Dr. Debra L. Bogen Acting Secretary,
PA Department of Health

Russell Redding, the Secretary of the PA Department of Agriculture, spoke to the concerns held by farmers, landowners, and consumers. Darlington Township, and the surrounding area, are composed of prime farmland and family-owned operations that supply high quality meat and produce to all of America, and assurance is needed that the derailment has not impacted the year’s harvest. Thankfully, Secretary Redding reported that no significant or widespread issues have been seen in PA regarding animal health, and there is no risk to consumers that utilize the region’s produce. Furthermore, at the direction and encouragement of the Farm Bureau, EPA, and DEP the Department of Agriculture reported that soil testing within the 2-mile radius of the derailment and downwind have delivered NO concerning results.

Though testing has shown livestock and farmland to be unaffected, public perception has led to reduced or cancelled sales. Regardless of the findings of the state or federal government the concerns of the public persist. Farmers are losing money and customers regardless of test results and advocacy campaigns, and this loss needs to be compensated. Similarly to long-term concerns with water quality and public health the Department of Agriculture will continue to monitor impacted soil and animals, and work to revive public faith and trust in the farms within the region.

“Our goal is to ensure farm operators can continue to operate safely, and that consumers have trust in their products.”

Russell Redding Secretary,
PA Department of Agriculture

WATCH: Questions for Our State Agencies
Local Impact

Following the presentation of data and research from our State Agencies the Committees were joined by representatives of the communities most impacted by the derailment. The testifiers that joined the Local Impact panel shared the timeline of the derailment, initial concerns with the response, and the continued supports needed by their communities to make them whole again. The region is generally quiet and bucolic in nature, and the failures of Norfolk Southern have marred public perception and upset the tranquility of the area.

Mike Carreon, the Vice Chairman of the Darlington Township Board of Supervisors and a cattle farmer, joined the Committees to express his concerns as a business owner and local community leader. Mr. Carreon highlighted similar concerns to those heard in the Department of Agriculture’s testimony, stating that local farmers like himself are unable to recoup their expenses due to loss of customers and lingering concerns. Orders that were placed for beef or produce months ago were cancelled following the derailment, leaving farmers and ranchers at a loss. The entire community now faces significantly decreased property sales and agricultural deals that will be negatively impacted for years to come.

Mr. Carreon knows the soil and animals in the region better than most, and trusts the results of recent soil and water testing. He expressed his desire for these results to be shared with the concerned public, and the need for lingering fears to be assuaged. The family-operated farms and ranches in the region were not planning to move before the derailment, and now that positive testing results have come to light the families have no intentions of moving post-derailment. Mr. Carreon also shared with the Committees the slap-in-the-face offer provided by Norfolk Southern to Darlington Township residents forced to evacuate during the incident, a measly $1,000 “inconvenience fee”. This “fee” does not begin to compensate residents for the environmental concerns, anxiety, and lingering economic impact of the derailment.

“I’d like to see us get the testing done so that we can push all of the positive results, educate the public, and have Norfolk Southern step-up after they put a black eye on this community.”

Mike Carreon Vice Chairman,
Darlington Township Board of Supervisors


Daniel C. Camp, III, the Chairman of the Beaver County Board of Commissioners, joined the Local Impact panel to share a county-wide assessment of the derailment and response. From the very beginning of the disaster, 18 Beaver County fire departments immediately responded to the derailment and began containment efforts. The fire departments and first responders to the derailment that traversed states in an effort to save lives and property need to be compensated for their equipment and the cost to clean their gear. The first responders returned to their bases and homes with contaminated equipment and gear, and must be made whole for their efforts and willingness to help in a time of immense need and concern.

Beaver County, like most rural counties throughout the state, is heavily reliant on groundwater for homes and businesses. In the immediate area of the derailment all homes utilize private wells for their water, so concerns over short and long-term groundwater contamination are high. Initial reports of safe public drinking water were welcomed, but the positive results of DEP groundwater testing have provided more comfort to the many residents that utilize well water in the area.

Long-term investments, primarily from those directly responsible for the derailment and “vent and burn” approach, are needed to assure the continued health and economy of the impacted area. Furthermore, as initially stated by DEP, funding for long-term soil testing, particularly during a property sale, will be needed to assure landowners are not negatively impacted for years to come. As state and private funds make their way to the impacted Counties and Darlington Township the initial plan is to utilize local authorities and non-profits to get resources to those most in-need. The communities most impacted by the disaster will recover, but they will need continued support.

“Our residents were upended from their lives and routines by what appears to be a heedless action from Norfolk Southern.” ”

Daniel C. Camp, III Chairman,
Beaver County Board of Commissioners


WATCH: Questions for Local Impact
The day’s hearing on the impact of the Norfolk Southern train derailment provided much needed and highly anticipated information to the public. The testimony from each key individual provided unique perspectives on the impact of the derailment, including its impact on air, soil, and water, as well as on the health and economy of the affected communities. The hearing shed light on the need for continued monitoring and investment in the impacted area, and for compensation to those affected by the derailment. The bipartisan Policy Committee hearing brought together representatives from across the state to jointly learn the details of the day, how the events impacted the entire Commonwealth, and the efforts needed for the future. The Committees were thankful for the work of our State Agencies, and the insight provided by our local community leaders.

Shortly following the hearing Governor Shapiro pledged a long-term presence in Darlington Township as part of the State’s commitment to the businesses and residents affected by the Norfolk Southern train derailment. Moving forward, the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Environmental Protection will be onsite at the Darlington Township Building to continue assisting and monitoring the local community. The events of February 3rd and the days after will ripple throughout the region for the foreseeable future, but with continued assistance and the promulgation of the positive environmental results found thus far the people of Western PA will once again be able to enjoy the nature and tranquility of what will forever be a peaceful and verdant corner of the Commonwealth.