STATEMENT on Pennsylvania-Ohio border train explosion

Media Contacts


Horrific accident shows risk of shipping explosive materials by rail, lack of information for local communities, first responders 

PITTSBURGH – Approximately 50 cars from a Norfolk Southern train traveling from Illinois to Pennsylvania derailed Friday night and ignited a massive fireball that required people within one mile to evacuate. Firefighters and hazmat crews from three states responded, but had to withdraw from the fire due to concerns about air quality since the train was carrying hazardous materials but it was unclear what substances the explosion may have emitted.

Multiple explosions took place at the site of the accident overnight. Ensuing fires created an ongoing orange glow and clouds of dark smoke that were visible on meteorologists’ weather radar in Pittsburgh, some 50 miles away. Residents complained about the smoke burning their eyes and throats. 

An incident such as this is not surprising. In 2015, the statewide citizen-based environmental non-profit group PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center released a study entitled, “Danger Around the Bend: the threat of oil trains in Pennsylvania,” which showed the risk that trains carrying explosive and toxic materials may pose to nearby communities in case of an accident. 

David Masur, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s Executive Director, released the following statement:

“As PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center has stated for years, the potential for an explosion from a train carrying what the local fire chief called ‘different quantities of products’ puts millions of Pennsylvanians – and tens of millions of Americans – at risk. Sadly, last night’s fiery blast on the Pennsylvania-Ohio border is a stark reminder of the threat posed to our cities, towns and communities from trains carrying explosive materials across Pennsylvania and the United States every day.

“Our thoughts are with the residents of East Palestine, Ohio, where the accident occurred, and with nearby, affected communities. Of course, our thoughts are with the firefighters, EMTs and hazmat teams who bravely show up to these sites not knowing what types of toxic chemicals they are dealing with or the risk that they may pose to first responders’ health. We must acknowledge their courage and selflessness in accidents like this. 

“We’re calling on state and federal officials to protect public health in our communities by subjecting freight companies such as Norfolk Southern to greater levels of inspections and oversight. Ideally, freight companies should have to re-route trains carrying hazardous material away from populated areas. If they continue driving current routes, the public and first responders have a right to know about trains coming through their communities, we need to update and improve America’s ailing rail infrastructure and train companies need to get proper insurance policies to cover the cost of an oil train disaster and safety violation fines. 

“The freight train explosions, accidents and disasters that regularly occur across the U.S. and Friday’s example in East Palestine, Ohio show that time is of the essence. We must act now to protect residents and first responders from the growing threat of trains carrying oil, chemicals, or any explosive or hazardous substances, and move toward a cleaner, safer way of life.” 

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PennEnvironment is a statewide non-profit citizen-based environmental advocacy group in Pennsylvania dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit