East Palestine: US Department of Justice sues Norfolk Southern over February train derailment


The U.S. Department of Justice filed a civil lawsuit against Norfolk Southern on Thursday, alleging violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and seeking damages for the train derailment and ensuing environmental disaster in eastern Palestine, Ohio in February.

The Norfolk Southern Railway Company and parent company Norfolk Southern Corporation are both named in the lawsuit, according to court records. The DOJ filed the complaint on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency.

The DOJ says the lawsuit seeks “injunctive relief, cost recovery, and civil penalties” for violations of the CWA, including discharges of pollutants and hazardous materials into waters, and under CERCLA (Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act).

Norfolk Southern says its goal is to make “progress every day in cleaning up the site, helping residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment and investing in the future of eastern Palestine and surrounding areas,” according to a statement sent to CNN by company spokesman Connor Spielmaker on Friday.

“We are working with urgency, under the direction of the US EPA, and making daily progress,” the statement said. “That remains our goal and we will continue to work until we are successful.”

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern train derailed, triggering a one-day inferno, spewing toxic fumes into the air, killing thousands of fish and leaving residents wondering if it was safe to live in East Palestine , Ohio.

The fiery derailment caused fears of a catastrophic explosion vinyl chloride – a highly flammable chemical linked to an increased risk of cancer. After a mandatory evacuation order, crews dumped vinyl chloride in a trench and burned it, preventing an explosion but causing further health problems.

Officials said tests showed the air and municipal water were safe and allowed residents to return home, but some reported a variety of new health issues, including rashes, nausea, nosebleeds and breathing difficulties.

While investigating the possible health effects of the train derailment, seven U.S. government investigators also briefly fell ill in early March, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed to CNN on Thursday.

“Symptoms resolved for most team members later in the afternoon, and everyone was back to work on survey data collection within 24 hours. Team members affected have not reported ongoing health effects,” a CDC spokesperson said in a statement.

Rail operator Norfolk Southern must manage and pay for any necessary cleanup, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The company sent hazardous waste out of state, fueling more questions about safety.

The DOJ is not alone in taking legal action against the railroad. The State of Ohio also filed a 58-count federal lawsuit against the railroad on March 14, alleging Norfolk Southern violated numerous Ohio state, federal and municipal laws and violated CERCLA. of State.

Norfolk Southern has set up a new webpage that summarizes community impact efforts. Spielmaker said it “provides a 7-day overview and is updated daily and outlines Norfolk Southern’s ongoing environmental remediation efforts in conjunction with state and federal authorities.”

“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in eastern Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, ground and water, endangering health and safety people in the surrounding communities,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement. “With this complaint, the Department of Justice and the EPA are acting to secure justice for the people of eastern Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern bears the financial burden of the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”

The Department of Justice, citing corporate annual reports, alleges in the lawsuit that Norfolk Southern has both increased operating revenues and lowered operating costs over the past four years, including by “reductions in expenditures to repair, maintain, and maintain locomotives and freight cars, conduct train inspections, and pay engine crews and train crews. The suit also alleges that these measures are an “objective” of the remuneration of company directors.

The lawsuit claims that when the train derailed and cars carrying hazardous materials were punctured, the dispersion and subsequent combustion of these materials released toxic chemicals into “the air, soil, groundwater and Waterways”.

The DOJ says seven local waterways, including the Ohio River, have been contaminated as a result.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported that “thousands of aquatic animals were killed in the five miles of waterway from the site” to the confluence of two creeks that the DOJ described as contaminated, according to the trial.

The DOJ is asking for $64,618 per day, per CWA violation and $55,808 per day or $2,232 per barrel of oil or unit of hazardous substance, per CWA violation — but it wasn’t immediately clear. after the prosecution how many days the DOJ considered the violation to be enforceable.

They also ask for a declaration of liability against the company for the intervention costs; a mandatory increase in safety precautions by Norfolk Southern when transporting hazardous materials; and for the railroad to “repair, mitigate and compensate” for environmental damage and public health issues that arose as a result of the derailment, according to court documents.

In early March, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw told a US Senate hearing that the company would “clean up the site safely, thoroughly and urgently”.


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