Ohio residents ask judge to block railroad from destroying crash evidence

by Jacob Fuller

Ohio residents suing Norfolk Southern Corp over a train derailment that spilled toxic chemicals urged a U.S. judge on Monday to block the company from destroying the wreckage without first giving them ample opportunity to inspect the crash site.

The derailment of the Norfolk Southern operated train in East Palestine on Feb. 3 forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off toxic chemicals.

Attorneys for the residents told U.S. District Judge Benita Yalonda Pearson in Youngstown, Ohio, during a hearing that the company had given them just two days to inspect nearly a dozen rail cars that crashed while carrying hazardous materials. They asked the judge to give their experts more time before Norfolk Southern removes and destroys the wreckage, which was slated to start on Wednesday.

A lawyer for the company told the judge Norfolk Southern was on a tight schedule to clean up residues at the site before a March 10 deadline set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and that giving the residents and their experts more time could result in delays to remediation of the crash site.

Pearson said remediation of the site was the most important goal but queried whether a compromise might be available. She asked whether Norfolk Southern could remove low-priority cars to an offsite storage location for later inspection, or if other options were available.

“Is there an opportunity for you to allow more time if it were necessary?” Pearson asked.

In a letter sent on Thursday to attorneys for nearby residents who have filed over a dozen class action lawsuits claiming the fiery crash put their health and property at risk, Norfolk Southern had said it would begin removing and destroying the cars after March 1, and promised to allow those residents and their representatives just two days to inspect the damage beforehand.

Among the chemicals known to be aboard was vinyl chloride, a highly flammable, carcinogenic gas used in making plastic products that can cause dizziness, headaches, and drowsiness when inhaled in the short term and a rare form of liver cancer after chronic exposure, according to the EPA.

The EPA on Saturday announced it was temporarily pausing Norfolk Southern’s shipment of material from the crash site, but promised those efforts would resume soon.

FISM News reported Monday that multiple states, including Texas and Michigan, have expressed concerns about the spill and Norfolk Southern’s subsequent cleanup.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters