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Ohio demands Norfolk Southern pay for East Palestine train derailment

The train derailment in the small Ohio-Pennsylvania border town that spilled more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals was "highly preventable," according to Ohio’s attorney general.

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CN) — Norfolk Southern must bear the cost and responsibility of cleaning up more than a million gallons of hazardous chemicals spilled in East Palestine after its train derailed last month, Ohio argues in a 58-count federal lawsuit filed Tuesday.

“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” Republican Attorney General Dave Yost said in a statement. “The fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.”

The Feb. 3 derailment made national headlines after vinyl chloride was released and then burned following the derailment to avoid a potentially catastrophic explosion.

Residents of East Palestine voiced concerns about air and water contamination and have reported various symptoms of illness in the weeks following the incident, including sore throats.

The state's lawsuit details the extensive ramifications of the toxic chemical spill and vilifies Norfolk Southern for its failure to prevent this and other derailments.

"The citizens of the region have been displaced, their lives interrupted, and their businesses shuttered," the complaint states. "Farmers cannot sell their produce, tourists will not visit the area, and the business activity in the region has ground to a halt.

"The stigma and economic impacts on the region will be felt for years to come. The people and businesses of Ohio, and the state itself, have lost substantial economic activity, business income, taxes, and fees as a direct and unavoidable consequence of Norfolk Southern's conduct and the derailment."

Norfolk Southern vowed to make things right for the community and its CEO Alan Shaw previously said he and his company "will not walk away," a promise Yost won't soon forget.

"This lawsuit will make sure Norfolk Southern keeps its word," the attorney general said.

The complaint seeks to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for violations of numerous state and federal environmental laws, including the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or CERCLA, Ohio's Hazardous Waste Law, and Ohio's Air Pollution Control Law, among others.

Also included in the causes of action are common law negligence, public nuisance, and trespass.

Ohio seeks damages to cover the massive cleanup required at and around the site of the derailment and to repair and restore natural resources, as well as an injunction to prevent further disposal of hazardous waste or additional violations of environmental safety laws.

Yost also seeks to require future testing of the groundwater and soil at the derailment site, the cost of which would be covered by Norfolk Southern.

The suit, signed by Ohio Assistant Attorney General Karrie Kunkel, placed the entirety of the blame for the derailment on Norfolk Southern and its questionable business practices.

"The derailment was entirely avoidable and the direct result of Norfolk Southern's practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety, and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates," it said.

Ohio claims Norfolk's "extensive and tragic history of derailments and releases of hazardous materials" has increased at an alarming rate in the past decade, during which time the company's accident rate has risen by 80%.

In that time, at least 20 derailments have involved chemical releases, according to the complaint.

In a statement Tuesday, Norfolk Southern did not touch on the pending litigation but voiced its intention to create several programs to ensure long-term benefits for East Palestine residents.

"Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now," it said. "To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund."

The company also committed to working to ensure the water supply of East Palestine and the surrounding areas is safe for the long-term future, and noted it is working with Yost to develop the programs.

"This was an epic disaster," Yost said. "The cleanup is going to be expensive, and it’s going to take some significant dollars to put the people of East Palestine back as close as possible to the position they were before Feb. 3."

Categories:Business, Environment, Government, Regional

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