Norfolk Southern released 1.1M pounds of vinyl chloride after derailment, lawsuit alleges

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – A new federal lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over the massive train derailment here alleges that 1.1 million pounds of vinyl chloride were released into the environment.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday by law firm Morgan & Morgan in U.S. District Court's Northern District of Ohio is one of six suits the railroad company is facing after the derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border almost two weeks ago.

Authorities and Norfolk Southern have not publicly stated how much vinyl chloride was released following thederailment and ensuing controlled burn of chemicals on several cars.

The suit claims "Norfolk Southern blew holes in its vinyl chloride cars, and dumped 1,109,400 pounds of cancer causing vinyl chloride directly into the environment," while trying to extinguish fires.

The firm claims that Norfolk Southern released more vinyl chloride into the environment in one week than all industrial emitters combined did in 2021.

A Feb. 4 drone photo shows portions of a Norfolk Southern Railroad freight train that derailed the previous night in East Palestine, Ohio.

What is vinyl chloride?

Vinyl chloride is a gas used to make polyvinyl chloride hard plastic resin in plastic products and is associated with an increased risk of liver cancer and other cancers, according to the federal government's National Cancer Institute.

Officials warned the controlled burn of cars containing the gas would send toxic gas phosgene and hydrogen chloride into the air.

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Attorney Rene Rocha with Morgan & Morgan described the amount of vinyl chloride released into the environment as "pretty shocking." The law firm based its calculation on the total volume of five 25,800 gallon DOT 105J300W tank cars carrying 8.6 pounds per gallon of vinyl chloride.

The railroad company declined to comment on the latest lawsuit.

However, Alan Shaw, president and chief executive officer for Norfolk Southern, released a statement Thursday addressing the community.

"When I visited East Palestine last week, you told me how the train derailment has upended your lives and how concerned you are about the safety of your air, water, and land," Shaw stated. "Our work is underway. Crews are cleaning the site thoroughly, responsibly, and safely."

In his statement, he concluded: "I know there are still a lot of questions without answers. I know you're tired. I know you're worried. We will not let you down."

Lawsuit faults hazmat plan

Attorney John Morgan accused the railroad company of choosing a cheaper and less safe option following the derailment to contain the hazardous materials, which created a chemical burn pit.

“I’m not sure Norfolk Southern could have come up with a worse plan to address this disaster,” Morgan said.

In this photo provided by Melissa Smith, a train fire is seen from her farm in East Palestine, Ohio, Friday, Feb. 3, 2023. A train derailment and resulting large fire prompted an evacuation order in the Ohio village near the Pennsylvania state line on Friday night, covering the area in billows of smoke lit orange by the flames below. (Melissa Smith via AP)

“Residents exposed to vinyl chloride may already be undergoing DNA mutations that could linger for years or even decades before manifesting as terrible and deadly cancers," he added. "The lawsuit alleges that Norfolk Southern made it worse by essentially blasting the town with chemicals as they focused on restoring train service and protecting their shareholders."

Reach Benjamin Duer at 330-580-8567 or Follow on Twitter @bduerREP.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Train derailment: Norfolk Southern released 1.1M lbs of vinyl chloride