Justice Department sues Norfolk Southern over Ohio derailment

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Justice Department officials on Friday said they are suing Norfolk Southern Corporation and Norfolk Southern Railway Company over the train derailment earlier this year in East Palestine, Ohio.

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In a news release, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Ohio and the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division announced that they have filed a complaint related to the Feb. 3 derailment.

“The complaint seeks penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act, and declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act,” the DOJ said in the news release.

Authorities are asking for $64,618 in penalties a day for each Clear Water Act violation as well as $55,808 a day, or $2,232 per barrel of oil or hazardous substance, according to the Washington Post.

The 28-page complaint charges Norfolk Southern with two violations of the Clean Water Act, according to The New York Times. The complaint “explicitly accuses” Norfolk Southern of putting profits before safety.

The DOJ has not yet filed criminal charges against those involved in the derailment but they are not ruling it out, the newspaper reported.

“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland in the news release. “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.”

“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in the news release. “No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced. With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to 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.”

On Feb. 3, 38 cars derailed in the crash and at least 11 of those were carrying hazardous materials, the DOJ said, according to the Post. Exposure to such materials could lead to “increased risk of cancer; risks to fetal development; damage to organs like the liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin; and other health conditions,” authorities said.

Days after the crash, Norfolk Southern vented/burned the contents of about five rail cars that had vinyl chloride in them in order to prevent an exposition, the Post reported.

Norfolk Southern officials said they have provided East Palestine with about $27.9 million following the derailment, but the cleanup is expected to cost more, according to the Post.

“Last month, the East Palestine community was upended by a horrific train derailment. By filing this complaint today, we are demanding accountability from Norfolk Southern for the harm this event has caused,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division said in the news release. “We will tirelessly pursue justice for the people living in and near East Palestine, who like all Americans deserve clean air, clean water, and a safe community for their children.”

“The United States Attorney’s Office stands with our district’s residents in pursuing accountability and justice in both the immediate and distant future, as we work together to deal with the damage and destruction this disaster has caused,” First Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Baeppler for the Northern District of Ohio said in the news release.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and other federal agencies are continuing to investigate what led up to the derailment as well as what happened after it, according to the DOJ.

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