EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — As the clean-up in East Palestine continues following the Norfolk Southern train derailment and controlled release of chemicals, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost says he is considering taking legal action against the railroad company.
“The pollution, which continues to contaminate the area around East Palestine, created a nuisance, damage to natural resources and caused environmental harm,” Yost said in a letter sent to Norfolk Southern.
Yost's announcement comes on the same day that Norfolk Southern opted not to attend a town hall informational meeting in East Palestine. "We have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties," the company said in a release.
Several lawsuits have already been filed against Norfolk Southern since the derailment. The first came from two residents and one business owner in East Palestine who each allegedly 'suffered damages' as a result of the incident. Another suit is seeking to force Norfolk Southern to set up health monitoring for affected residents in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
On Wednesday, a third lawsuit was filed by a pair of residents alleging that Norfolk Southern's efforts to clean up after the derailment worsened the situation in the area, leading to "a 1-million pound chemical burn pit."
Norfolk Southern announced Tuesday that it is creating a $1 million fund to help the community of some 4,700 people while continuing remediation work, including removing spilled contaminants from the ground and streams and monitoring air quality.
It also will expand how many residents can be reimbursed for their evacuation costs, covering the entire village and surrounding area.
“We will be judged by our actions," Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw said in a statement. "We are cleaning up the site in an environmentally responsible way, reimbursing residents affected by the derailment, and working with members of the community to identify what is needed to help East Palestine recover and thrive.”
On Wednesday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced that tests revealed the municipal water in the village of East Palestine is safe to drink. However, those East Palestine residents who receive their drinking water from private wells are advised to schedule an appointment for well testing by an independent consultant.
During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff addressed concerns about air quality in the area, saying tests show levels remain normal.
"People should be confident that multiple agencies — both at the state and national level — are very serious about this, are watching very closely, are not allowing any wiggle room when it comes to safety," Dr. Vanderhoff said.
Lawyers have also raised concerns over immediate payouts being offered by the railroad to residents, fearing they could shield the company from further litigation.
"There are some documents Norfolk and Southern might be asking people to sign in order to get a little money — trickle money, as we're calling it — and we're worried about that [and] getting word out to folks not to sign it if they can afford it," attorney Michael O'Shea told 3News.
Norfolk Southern has denied any ulterior motives behind such "inconvenience fees," telling WKYC "acceptance of these reimbursements and/or inconvenience compensation is not a settlement of any future claim."