(J.D. Davidson, The Center Square) Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says the state is suing Norfolk Southern, saying the rail company is financially responsible for the Feb. 3 train derailment in East Palestine that caused the release of more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals.
In the 58-count civil lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday, Yost said Norfolk Southern recklessly endangered the health of area residents and the state’s natural resources.
“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” Yost said. “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.”
In a statement, Norfolk Southern said, “We are also listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment. This week, we met with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to discuss three additional programs we plan to develop in conjunction with his office and other community leaders and stakeholders. We look 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.”
Norfolk Southern officials have consistently said it will take financial responsibility for the derailment and cleanup. Yost said the lawsuit will make sure that will happen.
The suit, filed in U.S. District Court of the Northern District of Ohio, cites the company’s accident rate rising 80% in the past 10 years. At least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments since 2015 have involved chemical discharges, according to the lawsuit.
“The derailment was entirely avoidable and the direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates,” the lawsuit reads.
Yost alleges 58 violations of federal, state and common law by Norfolk Southern, including violations of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, along with the state’s hazardous waste, pollution control, solid waste and air pollution control law. He also alleges violations of common law negligence, public nuisance and trespassing.
Yost said common law violations include negligence counts relating to defects in the train and the train’s operation. The nuisance counts encompass the chemical releases into the air, public waterways and public land, and the trespass counts address the contamination of natural resources.
The complaint says releases from at least 39 rail cars have made their way into Sulfur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, the Ohio River and/or some still-unknown Ohio waterways.
Yost said the state is entitled to recover the lost taxes and other economic losses it has suffered. Yost also wants injunctive relief, civil penalties, costs, damages and court costs, including a judgment holding the rail company responsible.
Also, Yost wants the court to require Norfolk Southern to conduct future monitoring of soil and groundwater at the derailment location, the surrounding areas and beyond and to submit a closure plan to the Ohio EPA.
The lawsuit would also stop Norfolk Southern from disposing of additional waste at the derailment site and from polluting Ohio waters.