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Ohio AG: Lawsuit against Norfolk Southern about long-term help

(NewsNation) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said the state’s lawsuit against Norfolk Southern, the company whose train derailment in East Palestine led to a controlled release of vinyl chloride from rail cars, is about finding long-term assistance.

“When I was up in East Palestine a couple of weeks ago, what I heard over and over again from people is that they are concerned about what happens when the TV lights turn off, what happens a year, or five years, or 10 years down the road,” Yost said on “Morning in America” Wednesday. “What happens to their property values and their health effects that they’ve discovered years from now? This lawsuit is designed to take care of those long-term.”

While the federal response to the derailment is ongoing, and officials such as those with the Environmental Protection Agency have said that the air and water quality is safe, residents are still worried. They’ve described headaches and feeling sick in the wake of the derailment, and have noted dead livestock as well as dead fish in local streams.

“I think what we need to all recognize is that there’s a limit to what we know right now. We’re still finding facts,” Yost said. “So should you listen to the EPA scientists? Yes. But also understand the limits to the knowledge that we have, and the ability to say anything, definitively and exclusively right now, is a little bit attenuated.”

While Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw has promised to “make things right,” and even apologized before Congress last week, he hasn’t made specific commitments to pay for long-term health and economic harm. However, the railroad has promised more than $20 million to help the village recover, and announced several voluntary upgrades.

Ohio’s lawsuit cites 58 violations against Norfolk Southern. One of the most concerning aspects of the company, for Yost, is its accident rate, which has increased by over 80% in the last 10 years.

“That’s a pretty big number,” Yost said. “In my operation, (with) about 1,500 people across the organization, if I see a metric that changes by 80%, I want to know what’s going on there because that’s a substantial change.”

Norfolk Southern said Tuesday in a response to the lawsuit that it was listening to concerns from the community and planning to take additional steps to deal with some of those.

There are also East Palestine residents who have taken it upon themselves to file lawsuits against Norfolk Southern. Michael O’Shea, a lawyer who is representing some of the residents suing, says these residents just want back the lives they had before the Feb.3 derailment.

Not only do they have medical and property problems, O’Shea said, but those living in East Palestine still have “day-to-day” anxiety.

“These folks don’t know what their present or future holds, and they are terrified,” O’Shea said. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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