The National Transportation Safety Board, which is currently investigating the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio has released new details about the cause of the disaster.
Residents of East Palestine, Ohio were shaken on February 3 as a train derailment released hazardous chemicals into the air.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) arrived to investigate the accident and collect evidence related to the crash. In addition, local and state authorities evacuated all residents within one mile of the crash site and started a controlled burn of the volatile chemicals to reduce the risk of an explosion.
The NTSB reported in a Tuesday press release that 38 cars derailed, with 12 cars damaged in a fire. Out of the 20 hazardous material cars on the train, 11 were derailed, releasing vinyl chloride, a carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, in massive plumes of dark smoke that could be seen from Ohio to Pennsylvania.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a video showing that the Norfolk Southern train had traveled more than 20 miles with a malfunctioning rail car axle.
NTSB Member Michael Graham also confirmed that there were “preliminary indications of mechanical issues” with the axle.
Subsequently, the NTSB has started to examine the car which caused the derailment, collecting the wheel bearings for metallurgical examination in Washington, D.C. and the top fittings and relief valves for the vinyl chloride tank cars at an NTSB facility in Texas. The tanks themselves will be examined in Ohio after they are decontaminated.
NTSB investigators have identified and examined the rail car that initiated the derailment. Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment. The wheelset from the suspected railcar has been collected as evidence for metallurgical examination. The suspected overheated wheel bearing has been collected and will be examined by engineers from the NTSB Materials Laboratory in Washington, D.C.
The tank cars are currently being decontaminated. Once the process is complete, NTSB investigators will return to Ohio to complete a thorough examination of the tank cars.
The vinyl chloride tank car top fittings, including the relief valves, were removed and secured in a locked intermodal container pending an NTSB examination. Once the fittings are examined by NTSB investigators, they will be shipped to Texas for testing, which will be conducted under the direction of the NTSB.
NTSB has obtained locomotive event recorder data, forward- and inward-facing image recording data and wayside defect detector data. NTSB investigators continue to review documentation, event recorder data and perform interviews. A preliminary report is expected to be published in two weeks.
Norfolk Southern has warned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that additional volatile industrial chemicals were spilled at the derailment site. The EPA issued a list of these substances and insisted to residents they could safely return to their homes.