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Timeline: The toxic chemical train derailment in Ohio

Health concerns over train derailment
Ohio residents raise health concerns following derailment of train carrying chemicals 02:30

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called for a congressional investigation following the Feb. 3 train derailment near East Palestine, Ohio — in which 38 rail cars derailed, including 11 which contained hazardous materials. The derailment forced hundreds of nearby residents to evacuate for several days. 

The National Transportation Safety Board said that along with the 38 rail cars that derailed, another 12 cars were damaged by a fire. 

At a news conference, DeWine told reporters he was informed that the train, prior to its derailment, had not been considered a "high hazardous material train," so the state was not notified that it was passing through. 

"Frankly, if this is true, this is absurd and we need to look at this." DeWine said. "Congress needs to take a look at how these things are handled. We should know when we have trains carrying hazardous materials that are going through the state of Ohio."

DeWine addressed concerns about harmful chemicals remaining in the air, and said that following a controlled release of chemicals, members of the Ohio National Guard were sent into the area in protective suits to measure the air, and no one was allowed back into the area until it was deemed safe. 

"In fact, the monitoring showed that the air was basically what it was prior to the actual train crash," he said. 

Below is a timeline of events following the train derailment. 

Feb. 3: Train derailment 

On Feb. 3., about 50 cars derailed in East Palestine as a freight train was carrying a variety of materials from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania, rail operator Norfolk Southern said. No injuries were reported. 

First responders found evidence of one of the train cars releasing vinyl chloride, NTSB member Michael Graham said at a press conference. Vinyl chloride is used to make the polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin used in a variety of plastic products, including pipes, wires and packaging materials.

Train Derailment Ohio
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. Gene J. Puskar / AP

Feb. 5: Remaining residents ordered to evacuate 

One day after officials issued evacuation orders to hundreds of residents near the Ohio-Pennsylvania state line, they urgently warned any residents who had declined to leave to evacuate immediately, saying a rail car was at risk of a potential explosion that could launch deadly shrapnel as far as a mile.

"You need to leave, you just need to leave. This is a matter of life and death," DeWine told residents. 

Officials said residents needed to evacuate so crews could release chemicals from some of the derailed cars for a controlled burn.

Feb. 6: Controlled release of the rail cars' chemicals

Crews released toxic chemicals into the air from five derailed tanker cars that were in danger of exploding

Vinyl chloride was slowly released from five rail cars into a trough that was then ignited, creating a large plume above the village of East Palestine.

Officials said after the controlled release crews would begin the "wrecking" process, in which the cars are moved off the tracks and relocated to a safe area where they'll be looked at by National Transportation Safety Board officials.

Officials said that although it was the last option, the detonation went "perfect."

A look at the controlled release of material from the derailed train cars in East Palestine, Ohio. CBS Pittsburgh

February 8: Evacuation order lifted

Residents were told they could return to their homes about five days after the incident. 

East Palestine Fire Chief Keith Drabick said that air and water samples determined that the evacuation area, which covered about a one-mile radius, was safe for residents to return. 

"The evacuation order has been lifted, if you were asked to evacuate your residence due to the incident in East Palestine, you are permitted to return home. Please return in a safe and orderly manner," Beaver County Emergency Services tweeted.

Feb. 13: Video of train prior to derailment shows sparks and flames

A video that captured footage of the train about 20 miles before it reached the site where it derailed raised questions about when the crew knew there was a problem, CBS Pittsburgh reported. 

Video appears to show Ohio train on fire 20 miles before derailing 03:53

The video, obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, was taken by a security camera at an equipment plant in Salem, Ohio. What appears to be sparks and flames can be seen in the video under one of the train cars as it passes the plant. The National Transportation Safety Board referenced the video at a news conference last week.

"We have obtained two videos which show preliminary indications of mechanical issues on one of the rail car axles," Michael Graham, a member of the NTSB, said. 

Feb. 14-23: Thousands of fish dead in local waterways

Ohio's Department of Natural Resources said on Feb. 14 that an estimated 3,500 dead fish have been found in local streams, tributaries and waterways, accounting for at least 12 different species. 

The majority of those counted in the estimate seem to have died within the first couple days of the derailment, officials said.

A week later, the department updated those figures with an even grimmer toll: more than 43,700 animals dead within a 5-mile area. 

Feb. 21: "Substantial contamination" in soil and water removed from site

Norfolk Southern said thousands of pounds of soil and water have been removed from the site of the crash due to "substantial contamination." 

The 38 derailed train cars were carrying substances including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene — all materials that are widely considered to be toxic and that could have damaging effects to both humans and the environment. 

The company said 15,000 pounds of soil and 1.1 million gallons of water have been removed from the area because of contamination. In a press release, the company did not specify which of the hazardous materials were found in the water and soil. 

"The material will be transported to landfills and disposal facilities that are designed to accept it safely in accordance with state and federal regulations," the company said.  

Feb. 21: Ohio governor says Norfolk Southern "needs to pay" for health care costs

Though officials maintain that municipal water and air testing shows the area is safe, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said that, should any health problems arise related to the incident, the railroad company should foot the bill. 

"The railroad needs to pay for it," DeWine said during a joint press conference with the Environmental Protection Agency. "The railroad needs to pay for anything that they cause, anything that they did. So when someone shows up at the clinic and if they do not have insurance, the railroad needs to be made to pay for that." 

Feb. 25: Erin Brockovich calls for more answers after train derailment

Erin Brockovich, the well-known environmental advocate, is adding her voice to the growing chorus of those calling for answers after the East Palestine train derailment.

Brockovich addressed residents at a town hall, and she told CBS News that she understands the fear and frustration of East Palestine residents.

"They're worried, because they've got coughs and respiratory problems," she said. "There's so many unanswered questions, and they know this isn't the last of this conversation." 

March 4: Another Norfolk Southern train derails in Ohio

A Norfolk Southern train derailed near a highway in the Springfield, Ohio, area. The railway company said there were no hazardous materials aboard the train, and there were no reported injuries. 

Residents within 1,000 feet of the derailment were asked to shelter-in-place out of an "abundance of caution," the Clark County Emergency Management Agency reported. 

Norfolk Southern confirmed in a statement to CBS News that 20 cars of a 212-car train derailed.

March 6: Norfolk Southern releases six-point safety plan

Norfolk Southern announced a "six-point plan" to improve safety, a blueprint the rail company issued after its second train derailment in Ohio in a matter of weeks.

Four of the six points the plan relate to bearing detectors, which are installed on rail tracks and provide real-time warnings to train crews. The company said it will develop a plan to add additional detectors "where practical," noting that it expects to add about 200 hot bearing detectors, with the first installed near East Palestine. 

March 9: Norfolk Southern train derails in Alabama

A Norfolk Southern train derailed in Alabama hours before the CEO was due to testify to Congress, as the company faces scrutiny of its safety practices.

Thirty train cars derailed in the White Plains, Alabama, area at around 6:45 a.m., the Calhoun County Emergency Management Agency said on its Facebook page. There were no injuries nor reports of hazardous material leaking, the agency said.

March 9: Norfolk Southern CEO testifies in Congress, vows to "make it right" in East Palestine

The chief executive of the Norfolk Southern railroad line appeared before a Senate panel to answer questions about the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that set off a wave of concerns about threats to the environment and public health.

CEO Alan Shaw told committee members that he is "deeply sorry" for the impact the derailment had on the East Palestine community and that he is "determined to make it right."

He also highlighted financial assistance available for families affected by the toxic train incident and first responders, noting the company's $20 million commitment for reimbursements and investments.

"I am going to see this through. There are no strings attached to our assistance — if residents have a concern, we want them to come talk to us," Shaw said. "I pledge that we won't be finished until we make it right."   

He vowed the company "will clean the site thoroughly, and with urgency. We are making progress every day."

March 14: Ohio sues Norfolk Southern to pay for cleanup costs

The state filed a lawsuit Tuesday, March 14, to make sure the railroad company pays for cleanup and environmental damage, Ohio's attorney general said.

The federal lawsuit also seeks to force Norfolk Southern to pay for groundwater and soil monitoring in the years to come and for economic losses in East Palestine and the surrounding area.

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