A leaked recording of a manager at one of the nation’s largest rail companies, reveals them telling workers to skip inspections and not report cars with the same type of problem blamed for last month’s massive train derailment in Ohio.
The Norfolk Southern derailment and subsequent investigation into its cause have invited increased scrutiny into the rail industry’s safety practices.
The audio, obtained by the Guardian, hears the manager telling a former employee of Union Pacific to stop tagging railcars for broken bearings. The manager says doing so delays other cargo.
A preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board into the Norfolk Southern derailment found that a wheel-bearing failure was responsible for the catastrophe.
The recording suggests safety issues extend across the rail industry.
Federal regulators also previously raised concerns about rail companies cutting down on their workforce sizes, and industry leaders have repeatedly fought new safety regulations around braking systems.
Train derailments at the nation’s largest freight companies have jumped over the past decade, to two derailments for every million miles traveled in 2022, up from 1.71 derailments in 2013.
The recording came to light as residents in the small town continue to raise concerns about their safety following the disaster, which saw responders conduct a controlled burn of toxic chemicals on board the derailed train cars, sending thick plumes of black smoke into the air and raising widespread concerns about the health impacts.
Many locals however have complained of various health issues since the toxic explosion, including difficulty breathing, chest pains, rashes, and even squeaky voices that had them sounding as if they inhaled helium.
Independent testing by researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon released earlier this week found elevated levels of the toxic chemical acrolein, which can cause both immediate and long-term health risks.
A previous analysis by the researchers of the EPA data suggested that nine chemicals were at elevated levels compared to normal in the area, a potential long-term problem for residents’ health.
The EPA previously announced that it will require Norfolk Southern to test for dioxin levels, a type of toxic chemical that breaks down slowly and can cause cancer, and reproductive and developmental problems.