NORFOLK, Va. — The train derailment on Feb. 3 sent toxic chemicals into the small town of East Palestine, Ohio.
Since then, there have been two other train derailments — all from Norfolk Southern trains.
While Norfolk Southern is no longer headquartered in the city it’s named after, its clear the series of train derailments have touched the hearts of several Hampton Roads residents.
Saturday afternoon, protestors with a local labor union, Tidewater Workers Assembly, took to the streets in Norfolk. They marched down 38th Street to the Norfolk Southern terminal at the end of the road.
There, they chanted, "Norfolk Southern's got to pay."
Charles O Brown, co-chair of the Tidewater Workers Assembly, organized the protest. He said the train derailment in East Palestine prompted them to spotlight their own community in Lambert’s Point.
“A lot of [Norfolk Southern] coal trains have cars that aren’t covered. So, you have dust particles going into the community, polluting people’s air and water. Folks have been living with this for years in this predominately Black area,” Brown said.
Kim Williams, with the Norfolk Catholic Worker Community, attended the protest Saturday.
She said she's lived in the Lambert's Point neighborhood for 30 years.
“The coal dust is very visible. It’s always on our porches, it’s on the ledges of the windowsills. Every house here knows that," she said.
Williams said she's fearful of long-term effects of the coal dust.
“I think other things that coal dust could lead to, we won’t know for a few more years,” she said.
A spokesperson with Norfolk Southern said the company has “taken substantial steps to reduce the amount of coal dust at Lamberts Point and has monitored particulate levels for over 30 years.”
The spokesperson added that the dust does "not pose a health threat to neighboring communities based on federal environmental standards."
The spokesperson said they have conducted multiple studies on coal dust in Lambert's Point dating back to the 1980s. She also provided several ways the company says it is working to control dust in the area:
- Loaded coal cars are sprayed with water and a dust suppression agent as the cars are overturned in dumpers to transfer the coal to conveyor belts.
- Hoods and wind guards shield conveyor belts that carry coal to the ship loaders.
- Sprinklers hold down dust at conveyor belt transfer points.
- Vacuum trucks sweep coal from the Pier 6 deck. NS in 2017 purchased a new sweep truck to enhance operations.
However, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (VDEQ) is conducting a three-year study to assess and reduce any potential health risks from coal dust in Lambert's Point and Newport News' East End.
It's called the Tidewater Air Monitoring Evaluation project, or TAME. The VDEQ says it "will measure and analyze toxic metals and particulates in the air in the study area, and will use this information to conduct health risk assessments."
VDEQ is placing air quality monitors and sensors throughout Lambert's Point and East End for the project. If you're a resident in either of these areas and would like to host a sensor or learn more about the project, click here.