Union Leaders Warn Train Derailment Workers Are Getting Sick

Railroad union presidents told Biden administration officials Wednesday that rail workers involved in the cleanup of the East Palestine train derailment are falling ill.

CNBC reported that leaders from 12 unions met with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Federal Railroad Administration head Amit Rose over needed safety improvements.

Mike Baldwin, president of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen, described the meeting as a chance to share what members are facing every day.

Also, a top union leader wrote to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg explaining that many workers at the Ohio site are now sick — likely from the chemicals released in the accident and cleanup efforts.

The letter from Jonathan Long, a union representative for the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees Division of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, also went to other federal and state authorities. It was titled “Norfolk Southern is Dangerous to America.”

Long said about 40 workers were told to clean up the contamination from the wreckage. However, he alleged they were not given proper gear to protect themselves, including respirators, protective clothing, and eye protection.

Instead, they were merely provided with paper and N95 masks, or rubber gloves, boots, or coverups.

As a result, the letter charged that Norfolk Southern workers now suffer from “migraines and nausea.” It told of one worker who asked to be moved off the derailment site due to his symptoms but did not receive a response from the company.

Norfolk Southern defended its cleanup efforts, telling CNBC in a statement that it was on the scene “immediately after the derailment.”

The company said it “coordinated our response with hazardous materials professionals who were on site continuously to ensure the work area was safe to enter and the required PPE was utilized.”

The response did not prevent cleanup workers and area residents from being sickened, and now reports claim that tens of thousands of animals within a five-mile radius have died. There are far more questions than legitimate answers concerning the aftermath of this catastrophe.

Congress is getting involved. On Wednesday a bipartisan group of senators introduced the Railway Safety Act of 2023. The measure is in response to the East Palestine derailment and includes new safety protocols and requirements for wayside defect detectors.