The U.S. Dept. of Justice is going after Norfolk Southern for full costs of cleanup and any long term effects caused by the derailment in early February of one of its freight trains in East Palestine, Ohio.
In a lawsuit filed March 30 in U.S. District Court in Ohio on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Justice seeks penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants under the U.S. Clean Water Act and an order on liability for past and future costs.
Thirty-eight cars carrying hazardous materials toppled n the Feb. 3 derailment, resulting in the spill of hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, and a fire that lasted several days.
“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”
EPA in February issued an order requiring Norfolk Southern to develop plans to address contamination and pay agency response costs.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement that the lawsuit will help "ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again."
Hazardous materials contained in the rail cars also included ethylene glycol, monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene and benzene residue.
An overheated bearing on a rail car axle played a critical role in the derailment and chemical spill, according to a National Transportation Safety Board preliminary report issued Feb. 21.
Earlier in March, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost filed a civil lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment holding the railroad responsible for the derailment and recovery of costs and damages under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly known as the Superfund law, and under an Ohio emergency response law.
The state suit alleges that the company violated hazardous waste and water quality laws and failed to take proper care to prevent the derailment, citing 58 violations of federal and state environmental laws and Ohio Common Law related to the accident.
In response to the federal lawsuit, Connor Spielmaker, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern said, "Our job right now is to make progress every day cleaning up the site, assisting residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment, and investing in the future of East Palestine and the surrounding areas. We are working with urgency and making daily progress. That remains our focus and we'll keep working until we make it right."
Norfolk Southern estimates that 9.4 million gallons of impacted water and 12,904 tons of waste soil have been recovered and transported off-site for final disposal since February. In addition, Spielmaker said the company's financial commitment to East Palestine and the surrounding area has exceeded $27.9 million.
The railroad also has set up a website NSMakingitRight.com to keep residents of East Palestine and the public informed of cleanup efforts.
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