DOJ files lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over Ohio train derailment

The Justice Department on Friday announced a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern Railway in connection with the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials in East Palestine, Ohio.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of Ohio, accuses the company of illegal pollution of waterways and seeks an injunction establishing the railroad’s financial responsibility for cleanup.

Norfolk Southern has said it will cover the costs, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has invoked the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, or the Superfund law, which allows the federal government to bill it for those costs.

Of the 38 cars derailed in the February crash, at least 11 contained hazardous materials, including vinyl chloride, a toxic substance used in production of plastic. Five others contained oil while another contained fuel additives.

Since the derailment, the EPA has overseen the shipment of 9.2 million gallons of wastewater and just under 13,000 tons of solid waste from the site. Norfolk Southern and federal officials have said the air and water are safe for residents, but seven Centers for Disease Control and Prevention investigators reportedly briefly became sick earlier this month while investigating the crash’s potential effects on health.

“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”

“Our job right now is to make progress every day cleaning up the site, assisting residents whose lives were impacted by the derailment, and investing in the future of East Palestine and the surrounding areas,” a Norfolk Southern spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “We are working with urgency, at the direction of the U.S. EPA, and making daily progress. That remains our focus and we’ll keep working until we make it right.”

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