The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company (Norfolk Southern) for the toxic train wreck in East Palestine, Ohio last month.
On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train with 10 cars carrying hazardous materials derailed, causing hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, to spill onto the ground and sent a plume of smoke into the air. The crash forced nearly half of the 5,000 population of East Palestine to be evacuated for a time.
DOJ’s complaint seeks to hold Norfolk Southern liable for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act, and past and future costs of the cleanup and damage of the event under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).
“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,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said in a statement Friday.
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.”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.”
“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced. With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to 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.”
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DOJ notes that the fire caused by the derailment burned for several days. On Feb. 5, monitoring indicated that the temperature in one of the rail cars containing vinyl chloride had been rising, so to prevent an explosion, Norfolk Southern vented and burned five rail cars containing vinyl chloride in a flare trench the following day, resulting in the release of even more toxic chemicals.
On Feb. 21, the EPA issued a Unilateral Administrative Order under CECA to Norfolk Southern, which required the company to develop and implement plans to address contamination and pay EPA’s response costs associated with the order.
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Since that order, the EPA has been overseeing that company’s work, noting that approximately 9.2 million gallons of liquid wastewater and an estimated 12,932 tons of contaminated soils and solids have been shipped off-site.
The DOJ said Friday that the EPA and other federal agencies “continue to investigate the circumstances leading up to and following the derailment” and that the DOJ would “pursue further actions as warranted in the future as its investigatory work proceeds.”
The lawsuit was filed in coordination with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.
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