Norfolk Southern, the railroad company responsible for the train derailment that occurred in East Palestine, Ohio, in February is now facing federal charges after the Justice Department filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency against the company Thursday.
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The lawsuit is based on the toxic chemicals released into the air, ground and water around the crash site. Norfolk Southern responded by saying it hopes to “make it right,” for residents in the area. From NBC News:
“As a result of this incident, hazardous materials vented into the air and spilled onto the ground,” according to the complaint, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. “These substances contaminated local waterways and flowed miles downstream.”
A Norfolk Southern rep on Friday said the company is working hard to “make it right” for residents of East Palestine and others living near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.
“Our job right now is to make progress every day cleaning up the site, assisting residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment, and investing in the future of East Palestine and the surrounding areas,” Norfolk Southern spokesman Connor Spielmaker said in statement.
“We are working with urgency, at the direction of the U.S. EPA, and making daily progress. That remains our focus and we’ll keep working until we make it right.
The company’s stated desire to make things right doesn’t seem to hold true when it comes to actions on the ground. Since the train carrying toxic chemicals such as vinyl chloride derailed in the small town on February 3, residents have been concerned about their health and safety. Residents reported pets and wildlife dying after first responders burned off venting vinyl chloride in order to prevent an explosion, WKBN reports. And they continue to report health problems and strange, chemical smells in the area.
Testing and clean up for the hazardous chemicals — which can cause short term problems like itchy eyes and headaches as well as long term damage to lungs and other tissues and even cancer — has been limited and severely lacking according to outside experts. Even as residents complained about feeling the effects of the chemicals, officials have been slow to respond, with Ohio governor Mike DeWine telling the media:
Look, our Ohio EPA works with the U.S. EPA, these are the principal people involved. The federal government is conducting an investigation to determine why this wreck occurred, this crash occurred — we await that, and certainly we’ll be interested in seeing what is going on. Look, the President called me and said, “Anything you need.” I have not called him back after that conversation. I will not hesitate to do that if we’re seeing a problem or anything, but I’m not seeing it.
It seems there is some evidence to go after Norfolk Southern for negligence. Railroad workers warned the company for years that the route through East Palestine was fraught with problems, and managers told employees to ignore the wheel bearing issue that was the likely cause of the derailment. The train was even on fire for nearly 20 miles before the derailment, with no signs of stopping to address the issue.
Since the crash there have been several high profile derailments on public property, including another one in Ohio and a Norfolk Southern train in Michigan two weeks following the East Palestine disaster. Two more trains — one operated by CSX and the other by BNSF — also derailed this month, dumping diesel oil into important waterways.