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US files lawsuit against Norfolk Southern in derailment case

WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — The U.S. Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern for its role in the East Palestine train derailment in Ohio.

The civil lawsuit claims Norfolk Southern unlawfully polluted the nation’s waterways when it burned off and released hazardous chemicals into the environment.

The complaint is asking Norfolk Southern pay costs for the environmental cleanup under the Clean Water Act and for a judgment to hold the railroad accountable for past and future costs.

“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. “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.” 

The derailment in early February led to the evacuation of half of the 5,000 residents of East Palestine when responders intentionally burned toxic chemicals in some of the derailed cars to prevent an uncontrolled explosion.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan said it will take the EPA about three months for it to complete its cleanup of the train crash site.

All 1,900 feet of the south train tracks have been removed from the site where 50 tanker cars, some carrying hazardous material, derailed, according to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office.

About 4,600 tons of excavated soil were removed, leaving 26,700 remaining.

To date, about 6.8 million gallons of liquid waste and 5,400 tons of solid waste have been taken out of East Palestine to waste facilities, Regan said.

Norfolk Southern has been under an EPA order to get rid of the waste, and Regan said it expects the company to comply with this. Compliance includes insisting waste disposal companies honor their contracts with Norfolk Southern, he added.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has repeatedly apologized for the impact of the derailment and the company has pledged to pay for the cleanup. The railroad has promised so far to spend close to $28 million to help the Ohio community recover while also announcing several voluntary safety upgrades.

Connor Spielmaker, a spokesperson for Norfolk Southern, said the company is focused on the cleanup and working at the direction of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

NewsNation writer Cassie Buchman, The Associated Press and NewsNation affiliate WKBN contributed to this report.

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