U.S. orders Norfolk Southern to clean polluted Ohio derailment site

by mcardinal

The U.S. government on Tuesday ordered rail operator Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminated soil and water at the site of a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and to attend all public meetings with local residents.

The Environmental Protection Agency order requires Norfolk Southern to submit a work plan for EPA approval for the cleanup associated with the Feb. 3 derailment of a train loaded with toxic chemicals that caused a fire and sent a cloud of smoke over the town that forced thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off chemicals.

“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

EPA issued the order under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives it the authority to force parties responsible for pollution to clean it up.

The EPA had come under fire from legislators and residents alike who have questioned their assessments that the water is clean enough to drink and that there are few concerns about long-term health effects.

Last week, Ohio Senator JD Vance challenged the EPA administrators to drink the tap water in East Palestine in an effort to prove their convictions.

Regan made a second trip on Tuesday to East Palestine, the derailment site.

Although no fatalities or injuries have been reported, residents have been demanding answers about health risks and blaming Norfolk Southern, state, and federal officials for a lack of information regarding the crash.

As previously reported by FISM, a class action lawsuit has been filed in Pennsylvania against Norfolk Southern on behalf of residents who claim that they have been sickened by toxic chemicals released from the vinyl chloride burn in East Palestine that have been released into the air.

Attorney Brad Trust who represents the plaintiffs said: “Right now, we have clients with respiratory problems, problems with breathing.”

The suit is among several that have been filed in the aftermath of the derailment, with more likely to follow.

In addition to reported health issues, accounts of dead animals and videos of miscolored waterways have led to further concerns from residents.

EPA will require the company to reimburse the agency for any cleaning services it offers residents and businesses and to participate in public meetings and post information online.

Residents were angry last week when the railway operator did not attend a town hall meeting.

A spokesperson for the EPA said the agency is taking this action now because things have shifted from the emergency phase to the remediation phase.

The agency will also create a “unified command structure” to coordinate the clean-up related efforts alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services, Ohio EPA, Ohio Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, as well as Norfolk Southern.

Copyright 2023 Thomson/Reuters. Additions and edits for FISM News by Michael Cardinal.