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'We have a responsibility': Norfolk Southern commits to paying for East Palestine train derailment cleanup

'We have been paying for the clean-up activities to date and will continue to do so.'

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — On Tuesday, EPA Administrator Michael Regan ordered Norfolk Southern to handle cleanup responsibilities in the aftermath of its train derailment in East Palestine earlier this month. 

Among its demands, the EPA says if Norfolk Southern fails to complete any action ordered by the agency, it will will immediately step in, conduct the work on its own and then force Norfolk Southern to pay triple in cost.

"In no way shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess that they created," Regan said.

Later in the afternoon, Norfolk Southern responded to the strong words from Regan with the below statement: 

“We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we have committed to doing what’s right for the residents of East Palestine. We have been paying for the clean-up activities to date and will continue to do so. We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives. We are investing in helping East Palestine thrive for the long-term, and we will continue to be in the community for as long as it takes. We are going to learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve railroad safety.”

Norfolk Southern says it has committed more than $6 million to East Palestine to date, including $3.8 million in direct financial assistance to more than 2,400 families. 

The company's CEO, Allen Shaw, spoke with CNBC on Tuesday as well. 

"This has been a traumatic experience. All the toxicology reports, all the testing shows that we're clean. However, if folks are experiencing symptoms with which they're not accustomed, I would strongly encourage them to go see a trusted medical professional," Shaw told CNBC's Morgan Brennan.

Shaw was also asked if East Palestine were his home, would he feel comfortable coming back? "Yes. I've come back multiple times. I've drunken the water here. I've interacted with the families here," he stated. "Look, I know they're hurt, I know they're scared, I know they're confused. They're looking for information on who to trust. I encourage them to ask questions. I think when they really dig into it they'll see all the testing - whether its done by EPA, or local health officials, or our independent contractors - show that its safe to return to this community."

In the interview, Shaw confirmed that Norfolk Southern is "cooperating and coordinating" with the Ohio EPA on a long-term remediation plan. 

The wreck occurred on Feb. 3, when the 150-car Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks and caught fire. Due to the potential for an explosion, officials evacuated everyone within a one-mile radius and conducted a "controlled release" of hazardous chemicals. Although residents were cleared to return home just days following the release, there continue to be health and safety concerns.

Also on Tuesday, the Ohio Department of Health opened its Health Assessment Clinic for those East Palestine residents affected by the derailment. The clinic is offers residents a chance to share their medical concerns with registered nurses and mental health specialists on-site. Toxicologists will also be available on-site or by phone. 

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