NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy https://www.flickr.com/photos/ntsb/49584384953
07 Mar 2024

Controlled vent and burn of vinyl chloride in East Palestine 'unnecessary'


NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy testified to Congress Wednesday that a controlled burn and explosion weren’t necessary after a train derailed in East Palestine, Ohio in February 2023.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Chair Jennifer Homendy testified before Congress regarding the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, in February 2023. She stated that a controlled vent and burn was unnecessary and lacked scientific basis. Homendy confirmed that Norfolk Southern contractors lacked the required scientific background to make such decisions and were not provided with essential information by Oxy Vinyls. 

Ground crews were given only 13 minutes to decide on the controlled vent-and-burn , with no alternative opinions considered. 

Despite the option to let the chemicals cool down, this was not pursued. Homendy noted that the temperature had stabilized hours before the burn and explosion occurred. Senator J.D. Vance called this situation an "extraordinary finding" and expressed concern over the potential poisoning of the town for reasons that remain unclear.


Huge need for HazMat training of volunteer fire officers

CTIF.org has previously written about how crucial it is to train especially volunteer firefighters in procedure for hazmat in train derailments. A large HazMat training need was identified for volunteer fire departments after it was found that It took nearly one hour to identify chemicals in East Palestine derailment 

We have also reported on how the volunteer East Palestine fire chief told investigators probing a Norfolk Southern derailment that the railroad gave him 13 minutes to decide whether to vent and burn carloads of hazardous vinyl chloride — a timeline he said left him feeling “blindsided”, as reported by the Washington Post.

The decision to vent and burn off the hazardous materials was the best decision Fire Chief Keith Drabick felt he could make at the time, with the information he had. While few in the fire community would perhaps disagree with his decision, the public has had a range of more or less heated opinions on both the initial response, and how the authorities have handled the situation afterwards. 

The decision to vent and burn was seen as controversial .With only 13 minutes to make a decision, many factors are naturally weighed against each other, and few would envy an incident commander the intense pressure of having to make such a rapid decision based on often insufficient information.


Photo Credit: (Cover Photo above) National Transportation Safety Board. Flickr license