Jonathan Long, general chairman of the American Rail System Federation of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, claimed that those tasked with handling the disaster were experiencing "migraines and nausea," and urged the relevant authorities to force Norfolk Southern to ramp up their safety standards.
In the letter, Long lamented the fact that in the immediate aftermath of the February 3 derailment, while residents of East Palestine were advised to evacuate the area out of fears they could be poisoned, rail workers were brought in to begin cleaning up the wreckage.
"I received reports," Long stated, "that NS neither offered nor provided these workers with appropriate personal protective equipment, such as respirators that are designed to permit safely working around vinyl chloride, eye protection, and protective clothing such as chemical restraint suits, rubber overboots and rubber gloves rated for safely working around the spilled chemicals that prevent direct contact with such substances."
Many employees, he continued, "reported that they continue to experience migraines and nausea, days after the derailment, and they all suspect they were willingly exposed to these chemicals at the direction of NS."
Long slammed Norfolk Southern for cutting costs in its alleged "quest for more record-breaking profits at the sacrifice of safety," and called on Buttigieg and the aforementioned recipients of the letters to "help bring about ... necessary changes before more trains go off the rails in communities like East Palestine."
Later Wednesday, leaders of twelve unions met with authorities in Washington, DC to discuss the situation. Jeremy Ferguson, president of the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers – Transportation Division, said it was a "good start," adding that, "it's important these safety issues are addressed."
According to CNBC, more talks between Buttigieg and union leaders are expected in the near future.
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