Ohio sues Norfolk Southern to make sure it pays for cleanup and environmental damage the fiery train derailed on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border last month, the state attorney general said Tuesday.
The federal lawsuit also seeks to compel the company to pay for future years of groundwater and soil monitoring and economic losses in the village of East Palestine and surrounding areas, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.
“The effects of this preventable accident will reverberate throughout Ohio for years to come,” Yost said.
No one was injured in the February 3 derailment, but half of East Palestine’s approximately 5,000 residents were forced to evacuate for several days when emergency responders deliberately burned toxic chemicals in some of the derailed cars to prevent an uncontrolled explosion in as a result of which the residents were left with health problems. Government officials say tests conducted over the past month have not found dangerous levels of chemicals in the air or water in the area.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized to Congress last week for the impact of the derailment on the region, but he made no specific commitment to pay for the long-term health and economic damage.
The railroad has pledged more than $20 million so far to help the Ohio community recover, and announced several voluntary safety upgrades.
Norfolk Southern said Tuesday in response to the lawsuit that it is listening to the community’s concerns and plans to take additional steps to address some of them.
The railroad is working on creating a long-term medical compensation fund, a way to protect home sellers if their property loses value due to a derailment, and improving drinking water protection, the statement said.
The lawsuit also requires the railroad to pay for disaster cleanup costs.
It’s unclear how much money the state is seeking because the response is ongoing, but Yost made it clear the cost will be huge. “It was an epic disaster. It will cost money to clean up,” he said.
Ohio state officials met with southern Norfolk officials Monday and discussed several possible ways to help people in East Palestine, including improving water treatment in the village, Yost said.
The state’s attorney general said he was satisfied the railroad had shown it wanted to do the right thing and that the lawsuit would make sure it kept its promise.
Many remain in Eastern Palestine outraged at the railway and worried about what will happen to the village.
These fears include concerns about their long-term health, home values and the economic future of local businesses.