EPA orders Norfolk Southern to deal with Ohio toxic train derailment cleanup - or pay triple in fines

Norfolk Southern is ordered to attend and participate in public meetings under legally-binding EPA order

Louise Boyle
Senior Climate Correspondent, New York
Tuesday 21 February 2023 18:49 GMT
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The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has put rail operator Norfolk Southern on the hook for the entire cleanup of the toxic train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The federal agency used its authority to issue a legally binding order on the rail corporation to identify and clean up contamination in the small town.

On 3 February, nearly 50 cars from a Norfolk Southern freight train came off the tracks in East Palestine. It led to a chemical fire of flammable materials and leakage of toxic chemicals into waterways and soil.

Norfolk Southern’s workplan for the cleanup must be approved by the EPA, a statement said on Tuesday. If the company fails to do so, the government will compel them to pay triple the costs.

“In no way, shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess they created,” EPA administrator Michael S Regan said at a press conference in East Palestine on Tuesday, where he was joined by Ohio governor Mike DeWine and Pennslyvania Governor Josh Shapiro.

He added that the EPA order would not “undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living with, but it will begin to deliver much needed comfort for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused”.

According to the EPA statement, Norfolk Southern must reimburse the EPA for cleaning services offered to residents and businesses. The cleaning will be conducted by EPA staff and contractors.

Norfolk Southern is also ordered to attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online.

The EPA said its order marks the end of the “emergency” phase of the derailment and the beginning of long-term remediation phase in the East Palestine area.

Gov DeWine on Tuesday acknowledged local people’s concerns that they would be left to handle the ongoing aftermath alone but said state and federal officials were in for the long-haul.

The Ohio Department of Health today opened a health clinic in East Palestine where residents with concerns can get treatment free of charge.

Separately, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg announced a package of reforms Tuesday, calling on railroad operators to take immediate steps to improve safety.

The Independent has emailed Norfolk Southern seeking comment. The company announced more resources for the East Palestine community on Monday, including a website to track progress.

The company said an estimated 4,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil have been excavated and 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water collected from the derailment site. It has also made more than $3.4 million in direct payments to citizens impacted by the incident, according to a statement.

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