- By Bernd Debussmann Jr
- BBC News, Washington DC
Environmental officials say nearly 45,000 animals died in this month’s toxic train crash in Ohio.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources figures update an initial estimate of 3,500 animals dead after the Feb. 3 crash.
Officials said all counts were recorded within a 5-mile (8 km) radius of the crash site.
Cleanup efforts continue in East Palestine amid federal investigation
A total of 38 cars derailed in the accident, of which 11 were carrying dangerous goods. Residents later reported feeling unwell.
Mary Mertz, who directs the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR), said at a news conference Thursday that all of the 43,700 animals that died were aquatic and that there was no evidence that any terrestrial animals were killed by the train’s chemicals. .
None of the animals are believed to be endangered or threatened species. Some live fish could already be seen returning to one of the waterways affected by the derailment, he said.
He said there was no indication that any of the chemicals in the nearby Ohio River had killed the animals.
“We don’t see any additional signs of aquatic life being affected because of the chemicals involved,” he said, adding that all the deaths occurred immediately after the accident three weeks ago.
On Thursday, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the train’s crew tried to slow it down moments before the crash after discovering a wheel bearing had overheated.
Just before the derailment, it reached a “threshold” temperature of 253 degrees Fahrenheit above normal, the NTSB’s initial report said.
As the engineer applied the brakes to the train, an automatic braking system was also activated, allowing the train to stop, the NTSB said.
“After the train stopped, employees noticed fire and smoke,” the report said.
The report found no evidence that the train was traveling above the 50mph (80km/h) speed limit.
It provided few details on what caused the derailment.
At a news conference in Washington, DC, NTSP Chief Jennifer Homendi said the crash was “100% preventable.”
“We call things accidents,” he said. “There was no accident. Every incident we investigated was preventable.”
Ms Homandy said the final report would take 12 to 18 months.
The fire at the derailment was extinguished by February 5, but officials were concerned that 115,580 gallons (437,500 liters) of vinyl chloride – an odorless gas used to make PVC – could explode in five cars.
So the authorities conducted a controlled burn, sending a huge plume of black smoke over eastern Palestine.
The NTSB said its investigation is ongoing and that investigators will focus on the wheels and tank car design, vinyl chloride burning and the response to the crash.
Norfolk Southern, the company that operated the train, has defended its response.
Speaking to CNN on Wednesday, CEO Alan Shaw said the company had already paid $6.5m (£5.4m) to people living near the scene.
On Thursday, US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited eastern Palestine and admitted earlier this week that he “could have spoken too soon” about the incident.
He has become a lightning rod amid local frustration at the official handling of the derailment.
Speaking to reporters in East Palestine, Mr Buttigieg blamed Norfolk Southern and former President Donald Trump’s administration, which he said had relaxed railway regulations.