US Justice Dept sues Norfolk Southern over Ohio train derailment

By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The U.S. Justice Department sued Norfolk Southern Corp seeking to ensure that the railroad pays the full cost of cleanup and any long-term effects of the derailment in Ohio of one of its freight trains in early February.

The lawsuit filed late Thursday in U.S. District Court in Ohio on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency seeks penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants under the Clean Water Act and an order addressing liability for past and future costs.

The Norfolk-operated train derailment on Feb. 3 of 38 cars including 11 carrying hazardous materials in the village of East Palestine caused cars carrying toxic vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals to spill and catch fire.

"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," Attorney General Merrick Garland said on Friday.

EPA in February issued an order requiring Norfolk Southern to develop plans to address contamination and pay EPA’s response costs.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the suit will help "ensure Norfolk Southern cleans up the mess they made and pays for the damage they have inflicted as we work to ensure this community can feel safe at home again."

Norfolk Southern on Friday said in response to the lawsuit that it was focused on "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 ... we'll keep working until we make it right."

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw told lawmakers last week that the railroad is "committed" to addressing potential long-term health issues, home value impacts from the derailment and efforts to protect drinking water.

No deaths or injuries were reported after the incident but since the derailment, some of East Palestine's 4,700 residents have reported ailments such as rashes and breathing difficulties, and some fear long-term health effects.

(Reporting by David Shepardson and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Mark Porter)