The state of Ohio is suing the rail giant Norfolk Southern over the derailment of a freight train carrying toxic chemicals through the village of East Palestine last month, calling it one of a “long string” of derailments and hazardous material incidents involving the company.
The 58-count civil lawsuit, filed in federal court, seeks to hold the rail company financially responsible for the derailment that caused the release of over 1m gallons of chemicals, calling it “recklessly endangering” to the residents of East Palestine and the state’s natural resources.
The suit alleges multiple violations of state and federal law pertaining to hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence, and seeks to recoup the state’s costs from the leak, including for damage to natural resources, emergency responses and economic harm to residents.
“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” Ohio’s attorney general, Dave Yost, said after the lawsuit was filed.
“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,” he said. “The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio and Ohioans for many years to come.”
The complaint notes that since 2015 at least 20 Norfolk Southern train derailments have involved the release of chemicals. The derailment in East Palestine initially caused a fire and then the authorities later decided to do a controlled burn to ward off the risk of a deadly explosion. The chemicals, some used in the production of plastics, not only spilled into the environment but sent up huge quantities of toxic smoke during the burning.
Residents and rail workers later said they had experienced sore throats and other symptoms. Experts have called tests on air and water quality lacking.
Last week, Norfolk Southern’s CEO, Alan Shaw, told a Senate panel that the company plans to clean the site fully in an effort to “make it right”. Shaw said he was “deeply sorry” for the impact the derailment has had on the residents of East Palestine and surrounding communities.
Shaw also said Norfolk Southern will provide $21m in financial assistance to East Palestine residents and emergency workers affected.
During a press briefing, Yost said “there’s lots of things that we don’t know yet” about the long-term impacts of the spill on farmers and their livestock in the area, as well as the effect on property and land prices. “This was an epic disaster, and the cleanup is going to be expensive,” Yost said.
On Tuesday, Norfolk Southern said in statement that it looked forward “to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs”.
The company said it remains committed to finding a solution to address “long-term health risks” and other problems.
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