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National Transportation Safety Board to release findings on East Palestine train derailment

 The National Transportation Safety Board members sit behind a table.
Matthew Chasney
Ideastream Public Media
The National Safety Transportation Board members on June 22, 2023, at the first investigative hearing on the East Palestine train derailment.

The National Transportation Safety Board, a U.S. government independent investigative agency, is returning to East Palestine Tuesday to release the findings of its investigation into the fiery train derailment last year.

The Feb. 3, 2023, train derailment upended life in the small town on the border of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The derailment of Norfolk Southern tank cars carrying hazardous materials led to the vent and burn of five tank cars carrying the carcinogen vinyl chloride. This decision has been highly criticized by residents, some who are still complaining of symptoms they say are related to the derailment.

The board plans to vote on the findings of its investigation, the probable cause of the derailment and recommendations to prevent future accidents.

In addition to the board meeting, Chair Jennifer Homendy is hosting two community meetings in East Palestine for the public to ask questions about the investigation.

“The NTSB is returning to East Palestine for our final board meeting for the same reasons we went last summer: Because the communities most affected by this tragedy deserve to hear our findings in-person and in real-time," Homendy said in a press release.

The NTSB's investigative hearings last summer examined hazard communications in responding to the derailment, emergency responder preparedness, the decision to vent and burn the vinyl chloride and Norfolk Southern's safety culture. Homendy criticized the amount of time it took Norfolk Southern to provide first responders with a list of what the train was carrying.

Officials from OxyVinyls, the company that owned the vinyl chloride, testified that they did not believe the vent and burn needed to occur. East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick, who was acting incident commander and gave the final OK for the vent and burn, testified that he was not made aware of OxyVinyls' assessment.

The NTSB's investigation found that Norfolk Southern's remote wayside desk was often understaffed and overworked, causing the worker the night of the derailment to miss an alarm indicating a bearing on the train was overheating. Norfolk Southern has added staffing to the desk since the derailment, the company said.

In a preliminary report released three weeks after the derailment, the NTSB found a severely overheated wheel bearing to be the likely cause of the accident.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.