Ohio’s attorney general filed a lawsuit Tuesday against Atlanta-based Norfolk Southern to hold the company financially responsible for its Feb. 3 toxic derailment in East Palestine.
The derailment caused the release of more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals, “recklessly endangering” residents’ health and the state’s natural resources, according to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost in a press release.
The 58-count civil lawsuit cites Norfolk Southern for violations of federal and state environmental laws, as well as negligence. It also cites Norfolk Southern’s record of accidents and chemical discharges from derailments over the years.
“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” Yost said in a written 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.”
Norfolk Southern says it has committed more than $22 million to East Palestine and the region. This includes financial assistance to families and reimbursements to fire departments for equipment damaged or contaminated during response to the derailment.
“Norfolk Southern will clean the site safely, thoroughly and with urgency,” said Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw during testimony before a U.S. Senate ommittee last week. “I am determined to make this right.”
Yost said his lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio “will make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps its word.”
Norfolk Southern issued a statement Tuesday saying “We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others.”
The railroad said it met with Yost to discuss programs it would develop with his office and others. That includes plans for “tailored protection” for home sellers if their property loses value because of the derailment.
The attorney general’s suit says substances released from rail cars have gone into multiple creeks, as well as the Ohio River. It says hazardous pollutants pose long-term threats to human health and the environment. Yost added that people have been displaced and had their lives interrupted.
Railroad safety issues: Recent AJC reporting
Railroad safety has come into national focus since a Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train crash erupted into a massive fire after multiple rail cars carrying hazardous materials derailed. AJC journalist Kelly Yamanouchi has covered the issues indepth.
- Here’s what to know ahead of Norfolk Southern CEO’s Senate testimony
- NTSB launches special probe into Norfolk Southern safety practices
- East Palestine residents recount fears of Norfolk Southern derailment
- Ohio town reels from Norfolk Southern derailment disaster
- Ohio train crew got critical alert only moments before derailment
- EPA: Norfolk Southern could be liable for Ohio train derailment cleanup
- Buttigieg: Ohio residents ‘not satisfied’ by Norfolk Southern response
- Fiery Norfolk Southern derailment renews push for rail safety reforms
Ohio is entitled to recover its lost taxes and other economic losses, the lawsuit says. Yost is seeking recovery of costs and damages for emergency response and repayment of damages to natural resources and their restoration.
The lawsuit also seeks reimbursement for property damages and economic harm to the state and its residents, along with repayment of current and future costs to the state for emergency response, providing public services, preventing future harm to the environment and public health. The Ohio suit also seeks civil penalties and court costs.
The complaint cites a minimum of $75,000 in federal damages, but the attorney general’s office said in the press release that “the damages will far exceed that minimum as the situation in East Palestine continues to unfold.”
Yost is also asking the court to require Norfolk Southern to continue to monitor soil and groundwater, and to prohibit Norfolk Southern from disposing additional waste at the derailment site.
Separately, Norfolk Southern said Tuesday it is adding paid sick leave for workers represented by two additional unions. Over the past month, the company has reached agreements for paid sick days with eight of its 12 unions.
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Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com