Lawmakers gathered in Cheektowaga on Saturday to send a clear message: The train derailment that has devastated East Palestine, Ohio, could have happened in Western New York.
The Feb. 3 train derailment of 38 cars at the Ohio and Pennsylvania border sparked a massive fire and led to an emergency slow-burn of chemicals to avoid an explosion. And even though the Environmental Protection Agency has not reported unsafe chemical levels, residents in the month since have amplified health problems; shared fears of water, air and soil contamination; and mulled the short- and long-term safety of living there, according to national media reports.
To ensure such a catastrophe does not occur here, State Sens. Tim Kennedy and Sean Ryan, Assembly members Jon D. Rivera, Monica Wallace and Karen McMahon, and Cheektowaga councilmember Brian Nowak raised their voices – literally, as Norfolk Southern trains roared behind them in Raymond Park – to advocate for train operators to alert municipalities to hazardous chemicals on board and to install electronically controlled brakes.
Ryan emphasized Western New York's history of environmental disasters, including when the Buffalo River caught on fire, contaminants from Tonawanda Coke, the Hooker Chemical and the Love Canal saga, and the continuing impact of Bethlehem Steel.
"We live with those consequences," the state senator said. Ryan said better rail regulations could forestall another disaster.
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