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Norfolk Southern sued by Ohio over toxic train derailment

A Norfolk Southern contractor walks away from the tracks as a train approach, in East Palestine, Ohio.. (Michael Swensen/Getty Images/TNS)

Ohio sued rail operator Norfolk Southern Corp. over what the state described as the “entirely avoidable” train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals last month in the town of East Palestine.

The suit seeks unspecified damages over the Feb. 3 derailment, which released more than 1 million gallons of hazardous materials, polluted rivers and streams, and upended the lives of residents and businesses owners.

The accident was “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,” Attorney General Dave Yost said in a suit filed Tuesday in federal court in Youngstown, Ohio.

Yost, a Republican whose office has been investigating the derailment for weeks, said at a press conference that the litigation would focus on Norfolk Southern’s safety record. He said the company’s accident rate has increased 80% over 10 years.

Dozens of civil suits have been filed since the train derailed en route from Madison, Illinois, to Conway, Pennsylvania. The civil litigation could cost Norfolk Southern more than $100 million for remediation and other claims, according to a Bloomberg Intelligence analysis.

The derailment created a risk of a catastrophic explosion due to the 20 or so cars carrying vinyl chloride — a component for some plastics. The material was drained and set alight days later in a controlled burn that generated a massive plume of smoke, forcing residents to flee and putting health at risk.

“The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio for many years to come,” Yost said at the press conference. “The point of this lawsuit is to make sure that those long term effects are not only not forgot, but they are redressed.”

Cleanup effort

In a statement, Norfolk Southern said the company is committed to helping the affected communities, and that it is already making progress in the cleanup effort. Company representatives met with Yost this week to discuss a plan to develop programs for working with the state and community leaders long-term, it said.

“Every day since the derailment, our goal has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities,” Norfolk Southern said. “We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.”

Yost acknowledged Norfolk Southern’s commitments on Tuesday by saying his talks with company lawyers had been different so far than those of other “industrial polluters” he’s “done battle” with.

The case is Ohio v. Norfolk Southern, 23-cv-00517, US District Court, Northern District of Ohio (Eastern Division).


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