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Justice Department sues Norfolk Southern over toxic train derailment in Ohio: "We are demanding accountability"

DOJ sues Norfolk Southern over train derailment
DOJ sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine train derailment 00:21

The Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection agency have filed a complaint against Norfolk Southern for the train derailment that spilled hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio. 

The civil complaint, announced Friday, is seeking "penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil and hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act." The complaint also seeks declaratory judgment for past and future costs under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA).

"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 B. Garland in the news release announcing the complaint. "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."

In the East Palestine derailment, on Feb. 3, 38 cars of a 151-car train derailed and 12 others caught on fire. Eleven of the derailed cars contained hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate and isobutylene, which are widely considered to be toxic. Chemicals were released into the air in a controlled release and burn to reduce the danger of an explosion. Residents were also evacuated for several days. 

Since returning home, some residents have reported health problems, including bronchitis and burning sensations. There have also been wildlife deaths, including tens of thousands of dead fish in waterways within the 7.5 mile radius, and concerns about air and water quality. 

"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."

CEO's Ohio train derailment testimony raises questions over what Norfolk Southern will pay for 05:27

The state of Ohio sued Norfolk Southern on March 14, to ensure that the company pays for the cleanup and environmental damage caused by the derailment, as well as fund future groundwater and soil monitoring. In late February, the EPA issued an order requiring Norfolk Southern to develop and implement plans to address environmental contamination and pay for EPA response costs associated with the order. 

Since that order was issued, the EPA has overseen the removal of 9.2 million gallons of liquid wastewater and 12,391 tons of contaminated soils and solids. Those materials have been shipped off-site. 

"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," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division 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."

Investigations into the cause of the crash are continuing. A preliminary investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board showed that a wheel bearing was in "the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment." 

The news release said that the EPA and other federal agencies will continue to investigate the crash, and take further actions against Norfolk Southern "as warranted in the future as investigatory work proceeds." 

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