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Ohio AG's Office suing Norfolk Southern over East Palestine toxic train derailment

'Derailment was entirely avoidable'
Dave Yost East Palestine News Conference March 14 2023
Posted at 11:35 AM, Mar 14, 2023

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — The State of Ohio has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, the railroad responsible for the East Palestine train derailment, for allegedly endangering the lives of residents in the area, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said in a news conference Tuesday afternoon.

You can watch the news conference in the player below:

Ohio Attorney General Yost announces lawsuit against Norfolk Southern for toxic train derailment

According to Yost, the state filed the lawsuit over the toxic spill that happened following the Feb. 3 derailment.

The 53-count complaint "looks to hold Norfolk Southern responsible for their actions," Yost said.

The derailment released over a million gallons of hazardous materials from at least 39 railcars releasing substances into nearby Sulfur Run as well as other waterways, he said.

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

According to the state, since 2015, there have been at least 20 Norfolk Southern train derailments that have had chemical spills.

Since the derailment, East Palestine residents have reported feeling ill. Yost said he heard from East Palestine City Hall, which was built over Sulfur Creek, employees that said they had sore throats and other issues. Beyond the health impacts to residents, there's been an economic downturn as businesses have shut down.

The lawsuit seeks to recoup the costs, taxes and economic losses the town has felt over the last month, he said. The state is also looking to recover costs for its emergency response and property damages residents have faced.

The AG's Office alleges the railroad violated local, state and federal laws. Among those, Norfolk Southern is accused of violating Ohio's water pollution control law, Ohio's solid waste law as well as Ohio's air pollution law.

Yost said the complaint seeks to require Norfolk Southern to perform future monitoring of soil and groundwater and prohibit the railroad from disposing of contaminated soil in the town and to "refrain from polluting Ohio's waters."

"The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate through Ohio, Ohioans for many years to come," Yost said. The point of this lawsuit is to make sure that those long-term facts are not only not forgotten, but they are redressed."

Yost went on to say that Norfolk Southern has said it wants to make things right.

"Our lawsuit is designed to make sure that they keep their promise," he said.

He continued, "Norfolk Southern recognized that they caused problems in East Palestine, that they've harmed the community and its people as well as the State of Ohio and they have expressed privately as well as publicly repeatedly that they want to do the right thing."

East Palestine residents have expressed concerns over their property values and some are worried about not being able to sell their homes, which is something Norfolk Southern has recognized, Yost said. Ohio officials are also in talks and reviewing legal options to help residents long-term such as with health impacts that if they occur, may not be noticeable right away.

In addition to financial concerns, many East Palestine residents who were recently surveyed by News 5 and Scripps News reported a litany of physical and mental health issues, in addition to continued dissatisfaction with Norfolk Southern and the EPA. Most residents we surveyed also said they still do not believe their water is safe to drink.

Watch our investigative report on the survey we conducted recently in East Palestine:

Most East Palestine residents surveyed still don't believe water is safe

RELATED: News 5/Scripps News Survey: 70% of East Palestine area residents refuse to use tap water 5 weeks after crash

"Out pledge to the people of East Palestine, the people of Ohio, is that we will not draw back, we will not give up, we will not surrender, but we will end in a place where there is justice for the people, for the economy, for the environment," Yost said.

You can read the full lawsuit below:

Norfolk Southern's response to Ohio's lawsuit

The company issued the following statement Tuesday:

"Every day since the derailment, our goal has been to make it right for the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities. We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive.

We are also listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment. This week, we met with Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost to discuss three additional programs we plan to develop in conjunction with his office and other community leaders and stakeholders.

Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now. We appreciate Ohio Governor Mike DeWine's leadership and advocacy on this point. To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.

We also know residents are worried about their home values. While we are working with local leaders on investments to support the community's long-term prosperity, we understand these concerns. We are committed to working with the community to provide tailored protection for home sellers if their property loses value due to the impact of the derailment.

Finally, we have heard the community's interest in programs that protect drinking water over the long term. We are prepared to work with stakeholders toward that goal as well.

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.

For more information on Norfolk Southern's actions and assistance in East Palestine, please visit nsmakingitright.com."

The derailment
Dozens of cars, including 10 carrying hazardous materials, derailed in a fiery crash on Feb. 3 in East Palestine. Vinyl chloride was later released into the air from five of those cars before crews ignited it to get rid of the highly flammable, toxic chemicals in a controlled environment, creating a dark plume of smoke.

Residents from nearby neighborhoods in Ohio and Pennsylvania were evacuated because of health risks from the fumes but were told on Feb. 8 that it was safe to return home.

The National Transportation Safety Board has since released its initial report on the derailment, stating the train crew tried to stop the train in East Palestine when they received an alert about one of the car's wheel bearings overheating to a critical temperature of over 250 degrees above the ambient temperature.

CLICK HERE to read News 5's previous coverage of the East Palestine Train Derailment.

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