Ohio Sues Norfolk Southern Over East Palestine Derailment

Gene J. Puskar | AP
  • Ohio sued rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment of a train carrying toxic materials in East Palestine last month, the state's attorney general announced Tuesday.
  • The state is seeking damages, civil penalties and a "declaratory judgement that Norfolk Southern is responsible," Attorney General Dave Yost said.
  • Yost said Tuesday he heard from people who experienced sore throats and other irritations while visiting the site, and he noted he had felt "discomfort" himself while on location.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 20, 2020.
Julie Carr Smyth | AP
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost speaks in Columbus, Ohio, on Feb. 20, 2020.

Ohio sued rail company Norfolk Southern over the derailment of a train carrying toxic materials in the town of East Palestine last month, the state's attorney general announced Tuesday.

The 58-count lawsuit alleges several violations of state and federal law pertaining to hazardous waste, water pollution, air pollution and common law negligence, among others, said Dave Yost, the state's attorney general, during a press briefing. The state is seeking damages, civil penalties and a "declaratory judgement that Norfolk Southern is responsible," he said.

"This derailment was entirely avoidable," Yost said, adding that Norfolk Southern has seen an 80% increase in accidents over the past decade. "The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio and Ohioans for many years to come."

Yost is seeking repayment of the state's costs including for natural resource damages, emergency responses and economic harm to the state and its residents. Yost said some businesses have lost significant revenues as people continue to avoid the area.

The state's complaint asks for minimum federal damages of $75,000 "as a formality" but notes "the damages will far exceed that minimum as the situation in East Palestine continues to unfold."

According to the complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, the derailment is one of a "long string" of Norfolk Southern derailments and hazmat incidents. Since 2015, at least 20 Norfolk Southern derailments involved chemical discharge, the state claims.

Norfolk Southern executives met with Yost this week to discuss assistance programs the company will establish alongside Yost's office and others from the community, the company said in a statement Tuesday.

"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," the company said.

On Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train with 11 tank cars carrying hazardous materials derailed near Ohio's border with Pennsylvania and subsequently ignited, spurring concerns of environmental and health impacts for the surrounding community.

Rail workers have reported feeling ill during cleanup on the derailment site. Yost said Tuesday he heard from people who experienced sore throats and other irritations while visiting the site, and he noted he had felt "discomfort" himself while on location.

The complaint said substances from 39 rail cars were released into the ground, storm water infrastructure and surface waters that eventually empty into the Ohio River.

Yost said "there's lots of things that we don't know yet" regarding whether the chemical spill will have long-term impacts for farmers and their livestock. He also highlighted concerns from homeowners that their properties would lose value because potential buyers would be hesitant to move in.

Norfolk Southern said Tuesday that it remains committed to finding a solution to address "long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund." The company also said it is working to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value.

Yost has asked that Norfolk Southern conduct future soil and groundwater monitoring at the derailment location and surrounding areas, and that the company be prohibited from disposing of any additional waste from the site.

"A big point of this lawsuit is to make sure that those long-term effects are not only not forgotten but they are addressed," Yost said.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw last week told a Senate panel that the company plans to clean the site fully in an effort to "make it right," adding he is "deeply sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the people of East Palestine and surrounding communities."

Shaw also said Norfolk Southern will provide financial assistance to affected residents and first responders near the derailment site, pledging more than $21 million in reimbursements and investments.

"This was an epic disaster, and the cleanup is going to be expensive," Yost said Tuesday. "It's going to take some significant dollars to put the people of East Palestine back as close as possible to the position they were before Feb. 3."

Copyright CNBC
Contact Us