Ohio sues Norfolk Southern over February’s toxic train derailment in East Palestine

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — The state of Ohio is suing Norfolk Southern over the toxic train derailment last month in East Palestine. It’s a move that was largely expected, and state officials had telegraphed it in comments about holding the rail company responsible for the cleanup, as well as long-term testing and other costs.

An overhead shot of rail cars shown off the track with some on fire.
This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio, are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023. [Gene J. Puskar | AP]
Attorney General Dave Yost filed the lawsuit in federal court. In it, the state alleges in a 58-count complaint that the derailment caused the release of over a million gallons of hazardous chemicals and it endangered the health of both residents and natural resources in the area. The suit alleges numerous violations of federal law as well as Ohio’s hazardous waste and solid waste laws, and air and water pollution laws.

Yost said the state wants a declaratory judgment holding Norfolk Southern responsible for the derailment, recovery of costs for the emergency response to the derailment, and damages to natural resources, property and the economy. The suit also seeks repayment for present and future costs incurred by the state and civil penalties.

When asked to estimate the total amount of money the state is seeking, Yost said he’s uncertain but it will be “lots. Maybe lots and lots.”

And Yost said the suit would require Norfolk Southern to do current and future monitoring of groundwater and soil, and prohibiting disposing of contaminated soil on site.

Norfolk Southern has accepted responsibility for the derailment, and has said it intends to “do the right thing” when it comes to paying the costs.

“The point of this lawsuit is to make sure that those long term effects are not only not forgotten, but they are redressed,” Yost said. “The company has repeatedly said that it wants to make it right. Our lawsuit is designed to make sure that they keep their promise.”

Yost said the accident rate for Norfolk Southern has been escalating over the last decade, and at least 20 derailments since 2015 have included chemical spills.

“This derailment was entirely avoidable and I’m concerned that Norfolk and Southern may be putting profits for their own company above the health and safety of the cities and communities that they operate in,” said Yost.

The lawsuit was filed in United States District Court in the northern district of Ohio.