The US Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against freight train giant Norfolk Southern over its 3 February train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, seeking to ensure the company pays the full cost of cleanup and any long-term effects.
The lawsuit filed in the US district court in Ohio on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) seeks penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act and an order addressing liability for past and future costs.
Meanwhile, it emerged that a team of government officials became sick while investigating the health effects of the toxic train derailment, when they visited the Ohio site earlier this month, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) told CNN.
The derailment of 38 cars including 11 carrying hazardous materials in the village of East Palestine caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire.
“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,” the US attorney general, Merrick Garland,said on Friday.
EPA in February issued an order requiring Norfolk Southern to develop plans to address contamination and pay EPA’s response costs.
The EPA administrator, Michael Regan, said the suit will help “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”.
The railroad did not immediately comment on the lawsuit.
Norfolk Southern’s CEO, Alan Shaw, told lawmakers last week that the railroad is “committed” to paying for cleanup costs and addressing potential long-term health issues and home value impacts from the derailment.
Shaw said the railroad will work with the community on programs to protect drinking water over the long term.
No deaths or injuries were reported after the incident but since the derailment, some of East Palestine’s 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties, and some fear long-term health effects.
The investigators experienced sore throats, headaches, coughing and nausea, the sort of symptoms that residents in the East Palestine area were experiencing after the derailment and the controlled burn of toxic chemicals from five rail cars that followed as authorities sought to stave off the risk of the train exploding.
The EPA, which has been overseeing Norfolk Southern’s clean-up of the site, said that more than 9m gallons of toxic water and nearly 13,000 tons of contaminated soils have been shipped off-site for disposal.
The CDC team of seven was going door-to-door in East Palestine and the wider area conducting a survey and reported their brief bouts of sickness to federal safety officers, CNN said.
Reuters contributed to this report
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