The Feb. 3 crash occurred in the small town of 4,700 near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Five of the derailed cars contained vinyl chloride, which the railroad later vented, then burned. Officials said they burned the chemicals to prevent an explosion, but critics say that once the chemicals were vented, the risk of explosion was neutralized; so the burning was not only not necessary, but also extremely damaging to life and business in an around East Palestine.
Train was burning at least 20 minutes before accident
Video footage shows the train was sparking or burning for at least 20 miles before crew members reportedly became aware of an overheated wheel bearing. They then tried to stop the train, with catastrophic results. That is the general story, according to the first findings of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).
The wreck, followed by a deliberate release of vinyl chloride, forced people from their homes and businesses for several days. State and federal officials declared the municipal water and air safe days later, but many East Palestine residents are concerned with long-term health impacts from the derailment, chemical spill, and enormous toxic fire.
Filed in federal court, the 58-count indictment from Ohio’s attorney general seeks to hold Norfolk Southern accountable for the Feb. 3 train crash and toxic aftermath. The derailment and subsequent actions by emergency responders led to the release of more than one million gallons of carcinogenic chemicals into the air, water and soil for miles around.
The lawsuit complaint says that what railway officials and the government called a controlled release “recklessly” endangered Ohio residents’ health as well as the state’s natural resources.
The suit alleges that dozens of violations of several federal and state environmental laws resulted in the release of hazardous pollutants into the air, water and ground. That release poses several long-term threats to human health and the surrounding environment.
The release and fire also damages the regional economy and local businesses. It has also led to the displacement of many Ohio residents who were forced to leave their homes and properties.
Related: Norfolk Southern Railroad Lawsuit
Ohio seeks reimbursement for immediate damages, emergency response costs, repayment of court costs, and the recovery of lost taxes and other economic harm suffered by Ohio and its residents. The suit also seeks to recover lost taxes, injunctive relief, civil penalties, court costs.
The lawsuit also asks the court to order the railroad to monitor future soil and groundwater conditions, and to bar Norfolk Southern from disposing contaminated soil at the site of the derailment.
“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” said Attorney General Yost in a statement. He added: “The fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come.”
Norfolk Southern responded: “We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost.”
The railroad said it wants to “make it right” for East Palestine citizens and other affected communities. It continues to clean the site and provide some financial assistance to residents and businesses.
Reported: Norfolk Southern offering some small payouts
Along those lines, however, Norfolk Southern has been accused of pressuring some Ohio citizens into signing off on any civil action against the company before it will offer any financial assistance. Some citizens have reportedly been offered, and many reportedly accepted, $1,000 for signing away their rights to pursue any legal action against the railroad in the future, despite not knowing what potential injuries they may still suffer.
The burning of vinyl chloride created dioxins, which are the most toxic elements ever created by man. Even tiny amounts can cause birth defects for three generations, spontaneous abortions, and female sterility.
Norfolk Southern has also been accused of improper testing of the soil and water. Some reporters and environmental experts have accused the company of performing inadequate or deliberately flawed tests, so that it can cover up the actual damages to the affected Ohio residents, their businesses and local environment.