COLUMBUS, Ohio — During a press conference Tuesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced the state has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over the Feb. 3 toxic train derailment in East Palestine.
In detailing the 58-count complaint, Yost accused the railroad of committing "numerous violations" of state and federal environmental laws. He added this filing "looks to hold Norfolk and [sic] Southern responsible for their actions."
"This derailment was entirely avoidable," Yost declared, "and I'm concerned that Norfolk and [sic] Southern is maybe putting profits for their own company above the health and safety of the cities and communities that they operate in."
It has now been more than five weeks since the train derailment, which resulted in ongoing health concerns after chemicals were released at the site. According to Yost, Norfolk Southern's accident rate has increased by 80% over the last decade, with roughly 20% of those wrecks involving some sort of chemical spill.
Yost took aim at the railway's "negligence" related to the crash, which the National Transportation Safety Board says was caused by a failed wheel bearing. Besides financial damages for cleanup, property damage, and lost profits for businesses, the attorney general is also demanding the company conduct future water and soil monitoring as well as not dispose of any hazardous materials at the derailment site.
"The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohioans for many years to come," Yost said of the "epic disaster." "The big point of this lawsuit is to make sure that those long-term effects are not only not forgotten, but they are redressed."
In response to Yost's lawsuit, Norfolk Southern issued the following statement on Tuesday afternoon:
"Every day since the derailment, our goal has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities. We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.
"We are also listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment. This week, we met with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to discuss three additional programs we plan to develop in conjunction with his office and other community leaders and stakeholders.
"Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now. We appreciate Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's leadership and advocacy on this point. To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.
"We also know residents are worried about their home values. While we are working with local leaders on investments to support the community's long-term prosperity, we understand these concerns. We are committed to working with the community to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment.
"Finally, we have heard the community's interest in programs that protect drinking water over the long term. We are prepared to work with stakeholders toward that goal as well.
"We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs."
Last week, Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw was questioned during a U.S. Senate committee hearing, during which he apologized and vowed to help the East Palestine community recover.
"I'm terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community," Shaw said during the hearing. "We're going to be there for as long as it takes to help East Palestine thrive and recover."
It was also where Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts repeatedly asked Shaw if Norfolk Southern would commit to compensating homeowners for their diminished property values after the train wreck.
"Senator, I'm committing to do what's right," Shaw replied.
Yost said today he has spoken personally with officials from the railroad, and while he said those conversations have been productive and those employees "want to do the right thing," he vowed "to make sure that they keep their promise."
"Our pledge to the people of East Palestine and the people of Ohio is well will not draw back, we will not give up, we will not surrender," he stated, "but we will end in a place where there is justice for the people, for the economy, and for the environment."