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Ohio train derailment: Department of Justice files lawsuit against Norfolk Southern

The lawsuit alleges the derailment caused violations of the Clean Water Act.

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The U.S. Justice Department has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern following the toxic Ohio train derailment that happened last month in East Palestine.

A complaint was filed on Thursday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio Eastern Division, seeking injunctive relief, cost recovery and civil penalties related to the Feb. 3 derailment in Columbiana County. 

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.)

In the complaint, which you can read in full at the bottom of this story, the DOJ is asking Norfolk Southern to be held accountable "for unlawfully polluting the nation's waterways and to ensure it pays the full cost of the environmental cleanup."

“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”

The lawsuit alleges the derailment caused hazardous material -- including, but not limited to vinyl chloride, naphthalene, petroleum, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether -- to enter into the air, soil and/or waterways.

The complaint is asking for the court to order civil penalties of $64,618 per day, per violation of Section 301 of the Clean Water Act and $55,808 per day or $2,232 per barrel of oil or unit of hazardous substance. 

Following the train derailment, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources reported that thousands of aquatic animals were killed in a five-mile radius of the site.

“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced. With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video at the top of the story previously aired on 3News on March 29, 2023. 

The full court document can be viewed below: 

The lawsuit comes nearly two months after the train derailment left the community facing an unprecedented situation, leaving many residents asking if it is safe to stay inside their homes. 

“Last month, the East Palestine community was upended by a horrific train derailment. By filing this complaint today, we are demanding accountability from Norfolk Southern for the harm this event has caused,” said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “We will tirelessly pursue justice for the people living in and near East Palestine, who like all Americans deserve clean air, clean water, and a safe community for their children.”

Currently, the clean-up efforts are still ongoing in East Palestine. On Wednesday, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced that Norfolk Southern agreed to exclusively use Ohio-based businesses to clean up the site from the train derailment. 

“We didn’t ask for this accident to happen here in Ohio or in East Palestine, and we would be quite happy not to have to deal with it,” Yost said during a briefing in Trumbull County. “But since this accident did happen, I’m pleased that Norfolk Southern has signed off on the agreement and that Ohio businesses are going to benefit. Ohioans are highly capable, so there's no reason to look elsewhere."

EDITOR'S NOTE: The video above previously aired on 3News on March 6, 2023.


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