Norfolk Southern Corp. has completed major excavation and soil removal related to a train derailment involving PVC feedstock vinyl chloride monomer in East Palestine, Ohio.
As a result, officials with Atlanta-based NS said the firm as of Feb. 9 no longer will offer temporary relocation assistance to residents who relocated during the excavation.
The most intensive site remediation work was completed at the end of October, allowing for the reopening of a street in the area. In a Dec. 5 news release, NS officials said the reopening "was another step in keeping [the firm's] promise to make things right" in East Palestine.
"We're proud of the progress we've made toward fully remediating the site, and helping the community recover, but we know there is more work to do," NS President and CEO Alan Shaw said in the release. "We'll continue keeping our promises and listening to the community. Together, we're focused on economic development to help the East Palestine community thrive for the long term."
But the decision to end relocation assistance isn't sitting well with all in the area.
In an email, a spokesperson for an independent local community oversight board said that residents of surrounding communities "continue to remain unhoused, lack vital answers on how dangerous the area remains and face the impending cutoff of financial assistance despite the aftermath of this disaster continuing to upend their lives."
The spokesperson for the Unity Council for the East Palestine Train Derailment Community added that a number of residents who are still living in hotels or outside their homes "were blindsided by this news and feel Norfolk Southern is attempting to wash their hands of the situation."
Local residents also have concerns about the village potentially putting derailment wastewater into the municipal water system, the spokesperson added.
To date, Norfolk Southern has committed more than $103 million to East Palestine and surrounding areas in Ohio and Pennsylvania. The investment includes support for first responders and community programs. Key contributions include $25 million each to fund a regional safety training center for first responders, located in East Palestine, and for upgrades and renovations to East Palestine City Park.
NS officials added that ongoing support for East Palestine will include a $4.3 million commitment for the long-term protection of drinking water and construction of Norfolk Southern's permanent East Palestine field office.
Regarding the ending of relocation support, the Family Assistance Center will be reaching out to those residents who temporarily relocated to ensure they know what benefits and support will remain in place and the options that are available to them, according to NS legal claims senior director Will Harden. "We're directly helping those families with their plans to return home, understanding everyone's situation is unique," he said.
Through November, officials said, there have been more than 11,540 family visits to the Family Assistance Center and NS has provided almost $21 million in direct financial assistance to families.
The derailment took place on Feb. 3, leading to a burnoff of five rail cars of vinyl chloride monomer, a feedstock used to make PVC resin. Smoke and odors related to the burnoff have led to health problems for some area residents.
A preliminary report from the National Transportation Safety Board cited overheated wheel bearings as the cause of the derailment. The train was traveling at 47 mph at the time of the derailment, 3 mph below the speed limit for that type of train.
More recently, on Jan. 2, a truck hauling untreated wastewater from the site's cleanup overturned on State Route 306 in Russell Township, Ohio. The spill released 200 gallons of diesel fuel and less than 5 gallons of untreated wastewater, which was collected and returned to the site for safe disposal. The truck's remaining untreated wastewater, primarily comprised of rainwater collected on-site, was transferred to another tanker.