By David Shepardson
(Reuters) -The state of Ohio sued Norfolk Southern Tuesday over the Feb. 3 derailment of a freight train that released over a million gallons of hazardous materials and pollutants into the environment around the town of East Palestine.
“This derailment was entirely avoidable,” Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said at a press conference, adding he was seeking compensation for damages to the state’s environment, economy and residents.
Ohio’s suit filed in U.S. District Court said the derailment resulted in the release of over one million gallons of hazardous materials and other harmful pollutants into Ohio’s air, streams, rivers, soil, and groundwater “killing tens of thousands of fish and other animals, and recklessly endangering the health of Ohioans throughout the region.”
The state is seeking prior and future costs tied to the derailment, alleging the railroad violated state laws regulating control of hazardous waste, solid waste and air and water pollution.
Norfolk Southern “has an extensive and tragic history of derailments and releases of hazardous materials… Norfolk Southern’ own record demonstrates that it knew – and should have taken appropriate steps to prevent – the significant
harm that the derailment would cause,” the lawsuit said.
On Monday, Yost met with Norfolk Southern and discussed several issues including the creation of a “fund to compensate for long-term losses to real estate values,” improving East Palestine’s water treatment.
“This lawsuit is designed to make sure that Norfolk Southern keeps their word to the people of East Palestine,” Yost said.
Norfolk Southern said in a statement it was working toward creating three long-term funds to benefit East Palestine, including one providing “tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value” because of the derailment.
The railroad said environmental monitoring by state and federal agencies showed the air and water are safe. However, it said it supports a “solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.” A third program would help protect East Palestine drinking water.
“We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost,” the railroad said.
Since the Ohio derailment caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire, Norfolk Southern has been under pressure over a number of train derailments.
Last week, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was sharply questioned at a U.S. Senate hearing and will appear at another March 22 rail safety Senate hearing.
Shaw apologized, pledging to improve safety and address impacts including thoroughly cleaning the site. He said the railroad had already committed $21 million to the community as a “down payment… I am committed to doing what’s right for the community.”
No deaths or injuries were reported after the incident but since the derailment, some of East Palestine’s 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties and say they fear long-term health effects.
Residents and business owners have filed nearly two dozen lawsuits against Norfolk Southern since the derailment, seeking payment for property damages and for ongoing medical monitoring to detect potential latent disease for people who live within 30 miles of the crash site.
Those suits claim Norfolk Southern was negligent and has created a nuisance for residents, among other claims for liability.
Last week, Norfolk Southern agreed to create a new first responders training center and expand a training program in Ohio.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; additional reporting by Clark Mindock;Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)