Professionalism/Avondale Mills, Norfolk Southern, and the E.P.A

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Background[edit | edit source]

Graniteville Train Derailment

Graniteville Train Derailment[edit | edit source]

On January 6, 2005, Norfolk Southern train 192 collided with train P22 at 2:39 a.m. EST in Graniteville, South Carolina.[1] While moving at 47 mph, a switch malfunction diverted the northbound train 192. [1] 1 of the 16 derailed cars was breached and released chlorine gas.[1] The release killed nine people, including the train engineer.[1]

Pre-Derailment Events[edit | edit source]

On January 5, 2005, train 192's conductor went on vacation, and the brakeman assumed their role.[1] The train engineer also took the day off, but their replacement arrived late.[1] After the new engineer arrived, the crew met to discuss the train's course, and the train departed from Aiken, South Carolina.[1] The train returned to Aiken at 1:00 p.m. EST and departed at 2:10 p.m. EST.[1] At 4:00 p.m. EST, the crew realized they were behind schedule and increased the pace of their work.[1] No briefings were held prior to servicing the Avondale Mills, and the engineer later said the conductor and brakeman were "in a hurry".[1]

All tracks in this area required authorization to be used.[1] The train dispatcher in Greenville, South Carolina grants such warrants.[1] Before the day's end, all line switches must be re-lined properly.[1] Prior to the derailment, the line switches were not properly re-lined, but the dispatcher cleared track warrants at the conductor's request.[1] The conductor had not talked with the engineer or brakemen about the switches.[1]

January 6, 2005[edit | edit source]

The train dispatcher on duty at 11:00 p.m. EST did not give authorization for usage of the Graniteville track until after 2:00 a.m. EST on January 6, 2005.[1] The outbound crew boarded train 192 at 12:30 a.m. EST and departed for Columbia, South Carolina.[1] In Graniteville the train was diverted and collided with train P22.[1] Prior to the crash, the emergency brakes activated.[1] The engineer had noticed the target switch banner was "wrong".[1]

Post-Derailment Events[edit | edit source]

The chlorine gas cloud spanned at least 6.8 million square feet.[1] An Avondale Mills employee called the police to report to the collision.[1] Other callers mentioned a "yellow haze".[1] Firefighters were called at 2:40 a.m. EST.[1] Police arrived at 2:42 a.m. EST.[1] Ambulances, mutual aid, and hazardous material response crews were called at 2:50 a.m. EST.[1] About 5,400 residents living in a 1-mile radius of the collision were evacuated.[1] Residents did not return home until January 13 through 19.[1] At 1:00 p.m. EST on January 6, a fire broke out in the Avondale Mills plant.[1] Clean-up efforts continued until 8:00 a.m. EST on January 14, 2005.[1]

In 2006, Avondale Mills closed plants in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia.[2] Millions were spent on repairs at the Graniteville plant. The company sued Norfolk Southern for damages.[2] Some Avondale Mills employees believed the company was "pushing [the cost of settlement] more than they should".[2] Others wanted Avondale to share the settlement money with laid off workers.[2] Norfolk Southern attorneys argued Avondale Mills was going to shutter before the crash.[2] The believed the company was using the crash as a cash-grab.[2]

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued Norfolk Southern.[3] The DOJ and EPA filed a complaint in 2009 for violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA).[3] The lawsuit was settled in 2010, and Norfolk Southern paid $4 million in fines for the Graniteville disaster.[3]

Chlorine Gas

Chemical Hazards[edit | edit source]

The crash released ninety tons of chlorine gas into the environment. Chlorine is fatal if inhaled, and toxic to marine life. It is 2.5 times denser than air, so chlorine gas travels close to the ground; making it more deadly. In the crash, chlorine and diesel fuel were released into nearby waterways, killing thousands of fish.[1]

The volunteer firefighters responding to the crash were the first to identify a hazardous materials spill occurred when one of the firefighters began to experience chlorine poisoning. Due to a lack of hazardous release training, they initially issued a shelter in place order, not an evacuation. Though the train engineers reported the crash to Norfolk Southern, they seemed unaware of the chlorine release, and failed to inform emergency responders, the EPA as required by law, or take safety precautions themselves.[4]

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) found in their investigation if the chlorine tank cars had been further back on the train or if the train was going slower or carrying less weight, the probability of the chlorine release occurring decreased significantly.[1]

Norfolk Southern chose to prioritize the profitability of carrying more cars over the safety concerns of doing so. This incident is similar to the Boeing 737 Max disaster; Boeing's safety culture declined as the company focused on short term profitability, and the public ultimately was harmed.

Public Response[edit | edit source]

The collision impacted Graniteville and its residents. Lifelong resident Roger Boyd said "[he] could not breathe" and the town looked "eerie."[5] Michael Reed, an Avondale Mills worker, noticed "green stuff" in the air when fleeing to his car.[6] Another worker, Gary Spires, could smell chlorine "coming through the ducts" of the plant and recalled "gasping for breath."[6]

Avondale Mills[edit | edit source]

Acid Corrosion

Avondale Mills shut down for 18 months in an attempt to clean and repair the facility, which cost over $40 million. Due to the toxic clouds of chlorine released in the plant, the entire facility was heavily corroded. Lisa Detter-Hoskin, a Materials Scientist from the Georgia Tech Research Institute, said, "It was as if we had the Graniteville plants sitting in an acid bottle." She found the humidity in the region allowed the chlorine to settle, and the heat caused more aggressive corrosion of the plant, maximizing the impact of the corrosion. [7]

Norfolk Southern paid an undisclosed amount to Avondale Mills, estimated around $13 million based on Norfolk Southern’s quarterly earnings. This was not enough to cover the cost of repairs, and Avondale Mills went out of business; 4,000 people were unemployed as a result.[2]

Norfolk Southern[edit | edit source]

Brief History of Norfolk Southern[edit | edit source]

A. Feb. 5, 1976 - Conrail (The Consolidated Rail Corporation) is created through the Revitalization Regulatory Reform Act in Congress.[8]

B. Sept. 29, 1980- Congress deregulates railroads using the Staggers Rail Act. This legalized railroad shipping contracts and allowed the railroad industries’ financial health to recover.[8] The act also “Relieves a carrier of liability for losses caused by the negligence of a shipper, owner, or consignee.” [9]

C. 1987 - Conrail Becomes Privatized, with the largest initial public offering at the time raising 1.9 billion dollars from investors.[8]

D. 1997 - Norfolk Southern Acquires half of Conrail through a joint stock purchase.[8]

E. Jan. 6, 2005 - Graniteville Train Collision

F. Oct. 20, 2006 - New Brighton Train Derailment, just over a year later. This is another NS derailment involving hazardous chemicals.

Norfolk Southern's Response to Graniteville S.C. Crash[edit | edit source]

After the Graniteville S.C. crash, Norfolk Southern's attorneys response to a class action lawsuit against them wrote: “Plaintiffs emotional evocations of ‘deadly chemicals,’ ‘mangled metal,’ or ‘deadly liquid chlorine’ forming a gas that ‘crept through Graniteville’ and ‘killed those who could not outrun it’ can have no use other than to divert this court from the issue at hand – whether certain of plaintiffs claims are preempted by federal law.[10]

After a settlement was reached, the firm representing Norfolk Southern in their case vs. Avondale Mills proceeded to publish a press release discussing their pride in reaching a 'favorable settlement' for their client.“Hollingsworth LLP has successfully defended some of the world’s largest companies in suits involving personal injury, medical monitoring, and property damage claims arising from exposures to allegedly hazardous substances.  "When the stakes are high and the issues are complex, our experience allows us to keep a clear focus on the resolution that best serves our clients’ interests.[11]

It's interesting to note nowhere in this release does Hollingsworth LLP express any sentiment of remorse for the lives lost or the devastation Avondale Mills suffered due to the crash.

Norfolk Southern's Ethics Guidelines and Reporting System[edit | edit source]

It's imperative that Norfolk Southern have a ethics guideline. Their 2005 Investors Book references how potential investors can obtain a copy of their guidelines by contacting them. Currently, no copy of their 2005/2006 ethics guidelines have been found. In 2014, NS boasts about the major revisions their guidelines undertook, but again no online copy is to be found.[12] The current digital copy of their guideline was published in August of 2022.[13] Consistent of 44 total pages, the guidelines includes various segments on things like DEI, harassment, discrimination, substance abuse, and employment law resources. The "We do business the right way" section of their guidelines appears the most influential.[13] They stress that any gifts they give as a company they do following procedures and that any monetary gifts accepted by their employees need to be reviewed by their management. Several times in this document, NS mentions how they simply always default to following required business obligations per government rules. This can be seen as shifting blame away from NS and onto the government for setting the appropriate standard. The document also mentions how antitrust laws and their compliance guide is important. This links to an external "Antitrust Compliance Guide" that is under lock and key for employees only.[14] On the login page, NS threatens legal action against a user for 'misuse'.

Norfolk Southern employees are asked to use the following "Ethical Decision-making Model": [13]

When faced with a tough decision, ask the following questions:

  • Is it legal?
  • Does it comply with our policies, procedures, and values?
  • Is it equitable and inclusive of others? How would it affect customers, vendors, competitors, employees, and our brand and reputation?
  • How would I feel if this decision were published?
  • Should I ask for help before acting?

This model actively passes responsibility onto their employees and therefore could be argued that a particular issue wasn't a company issue but more a individual issue as they didn't follow their model. This model however is vague and responses vary heavily depending on the situation and the employee.

Norfolk Southern's Lobbying Practices[edit | edit source]

In the years since the Graniteville train crash, Norfolk Southern's monetary investment in lobbying has drastically changed. In 2008, three years after the crash, their total lobbying spending doubled, reaching approximately $1.5 million every fiscal quarter.[15] They are currently lobbying against penalties for railroads that would apply stricter safety rules to trains with dangerous loads, bill S.576. [16] Hiring lobbyists for both parties, Norfolk Southern is retaining at least 9 external lobbying firms. [17] This bill would also give local residents and first responders information about trains carrying hazardous materials. [18]

E.P.A[edit | edit source]

EPA Water Quality Office

Graniteville residents criticized the EPA for their initial response to the incident. Chlorine monitors placed around the crash only monitored up to 1.5 ppm, when the immediately life-threatening concentration of chlorine gas is 10 ppm. Using monitors that only measured up to 1.5 ppm made it impossible to determine the true amount of chlorine present in the environment surrounding the crash.[4]

While cleaning up the chlorine spill, the EPA only evacuated residents within a mile radius of the crash where the 10 ppm immediately life-threatening concentration of chlorine was present.[19] However, within a 2.5 mile radius of the crash, chlorine poisoning caused severe health impacts for many residents.[4]

The EPA sued Norfolk Southern $4 million for violating the Clean Water Act when the chlorine and diesel fuel contaminated the nearby waterways. They were also fined for failing to alert the EPA immediately after the chemical spill occurred, as required by law; instead, the train crew waited over an hour to report the event. The EPA required Norfolk Southern to implement a hazardous materials training program that included the use of the hazardous spill hotline, and replace the fish killed from the chlorine release.[19]

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Graniteville Derailment Monument

Using their Code of Ethics and Ethical Decision making model, Norfolk Southern shifts blame from their company onto their employees. This can also be seen in their documented responses after the Graniteville, SC Crash and unfortunately other disasters. Lobbying against stricter regulation like S.576 combined with their hazardous accident track record indicates a larger company wide problem of unwillingness to take accountability for their actions and refusal of change. It is also interesting how many of Norfolk Southern's resources regarding their formal ethics policies are difficult to find and/or locked away with users being under threat of legal action for ‘misuse’.

This attitude has had disastrous consequences for public safety, as well as for Avondale Mills, and the environment due to the release of chlorine gas in the Graniteville crash.

Future Work[edit | edit source]

Future work could be done to improve this casebook. Authors may be able to communicate with Norfolk Southern themselves to obtain a 2005 and 2014 copy of the ethics guidelines to see their revisions. It would also be interesting to further research into residents lives after the crash. More research could be done into the effects of the crash on Avondale Mills and the workers there, and on the role the EPA played in remediating the chlorine release.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af National Transportation Safety Board. (2005). Collision of Norfolk Southern Freight Train 192 With Standing Norfolk Southern Local Train P22 With Subsequent Hazardous Materials Release at Graniteville, South Carolina. Railroad Accident Report.
  2. a b c d e f g Martin, S. (2008). Avondale, railroad reach settlement. Augusta Chronicle.
  3. a b c Department of Justice. (2010). Railroad Company to Pay $4 Million Penalty for 2005 Chlorine Spill That Resulted in Nine Deaths in Graniteville, South Carolina. Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs.
  4. a b c Brittle, S. (n.d.). Emergency Response Issues: What Went Wrong in Graniteville. Emergency Planning for Chemical Spills.
  5. Girardeau, T. (2018). Remembering the Graniteville train wreck 13 years later. Aiken Standard.
  6. a b Hart, A., and Wald, M. (2005). Cloud Rising from Train Wreck, then Death and a Ghost Town. New York Times.
  7. Goggins, K. (2006). Avondale Mills damage is severe. Savannah Morning News.
  8. a b c d Conrail. "About Conrail". Conrail.
  9. "S.1946 - 96th Congress (1979-1980)".
  10. Boguslaw, Daniel; Fang, Lee (February 23, 2023). "Norfolk Southern Argued Against "Emotional Evocations of 'Deadly Chemicals'" After 2005 Derailment". The Intercept.
  11. "Avondale Mills, Inc. v. Norfolk Southern Corp., Civ. No. 1:05-2817-MBS (D.S.C. 2008) | Hollingsworth LLP". Retrieved 2023-05-09.
  12. Norfolk Southern. "Governance/Code of Ethics". Norfolk Southern 2015 Sustainability Report.
  13. a b c Norfolk Southern (2022). "The Thoroughbred Code of Ethics" (PDF).
  14. Norfolk Southern. "My Policy".
  15. Open Secrets. "Client Profile: Norfolk Southern". Open Secrets.
  16. Sweitzer, Justin (April 3, 2023). "Norfolk Southern has spent millions on lobbying and political donations. Will it pay off?". City & State Pennsylvania.
  17. Oprysko, Caitlin (March 24, 2023). "Schumer, Cornyn aides will lobby for Norfolk Southern". POLITICO.
  18. Snyder, Tanya (March 22, 2023). "Democrats eyeing April markup on rail safety". POLITICOPRO.
  19. a b Harris-Young, D. (2010). Railroad Company to Pay $4 Million Penalty for 2005 Chlorine Spill in Graniteville, SC. EPA Newsroom.