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The head of US rail company Norfolk Southern pledged Thursday to improve safety practices and to quickly address clean-up need after its train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals in an Ohio town last month.
Norfolk Southern chief executive Alan Shaw apologized over the February 3 derailment and crash of dozens of rail cars that spilled toxic and flammable chemicals like vinyl chloride and benzene in East Palestine, Ohio.
Some of the cars caught fire, and to eliminate further dangers, emergency workers deliberately burned off some of the materials in other tank cars, releasing dangerous chemicals into the air.
That forced the evacuation of some 2,000 people from their homes, and a number have complained of ailments like nausea, headaches and rashes after being exposed to the fumes.
Some have expressed worries that the carcinogenic chemicals could lead to a spike in cancer cases years down the road.
Norfolk Southern has since come under deep criticism for avoiding investing in safety mechanisms that could have prevented the accident while funneling greater profits to shareholders.
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"I'm terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community," Shaw told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
"It is clear the safety mechanisms in place were not enough," he said.
"Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency," he told the hearing.
"We're also going to make our safety culture the best in the industry," he said.
Critics called the accident -- blamed on an overheated wheel bearing -- preventable, and called for a probe of the company, which has more than 18,000 employees and 19,300 miles (31,060 kilometers) of rail.
On Tuesday, the US National Transportation Safety Board announced a special probe into the railroad's safety record after a second derailment in a month and the third workplace death of a Norfolk Southern employee since December 2021.
The agency said it would investigate the railway's organization and safety culture, "given the number and significance of recent Norfolk Southern accidents."
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