EPA, Justice Dept. Seek Civil Penalties In East Palestine Wreck
WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency, in coordination with the U.S. Justice Department, is seeking potentially millions of dollars in civil fines from the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. in connection to the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying hazardous materials near East Palestine, Ohio.
In the complaint filed on Friday in the federal court in Columbus, Ohio, Todd Kim, an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division, says on the night of the incident, a total of 38 freight cars derailed, 11 of which contained some type of hazardous material.
These materials included “vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and benzene residue.”
Exposure to these “at sufficiently high levels,” the complaint notes, has been associated variously with an increased risk of cancer; risks to fetal development; damage to organs like the liver, kidneys, lungs, and skin; and other health conditions.
In addition, five of the rail cars that derailed were carrying oil, another car contained fuel additives and an additional empty car contained liquified petroleum gas residue.
While several freight cars were damaged and leaked right away as a result of the accident, a massive fire caused by the derailment also burned for several days.
On Feb. 5, realizing the temperature in one of the rail cars containing vinyl chloride was rising, Norfolk Southern intervened, venting and burning off the gas to prevent an explosion.
While the railroad’s decisive action prevented an additional calamity, it also resulted in additional releases of hazardous materials, the complaint says.
Since the derailment, the EPA states that it has overseen Norfolk Southern’s removal of about 9.2 million gallons of liquid wastewater and an estimated 12,932 tons of contaminated soils and solids, which have been shipped off-site.
“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a written statement.
“No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced,” he continued. “With today’s action, we are once more delivering on our commitment to 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.”
Specifically the EPA and DOJ are seeking an assessment of civil penalties of $64,618 per day, per violation of Section 301 of the Clean Water Act, and civil penalties of $55,808 per day or $2,232 per barrel of oil or unit of hazardous substance, per violation of Section 311 of the act.
They are also seeking a judgment awarding the federal government repayment of its response costs and an order that Norfolk Southern take appropriate actions to remedy, mitigate and offset the harm to public health and the environment caused by the violations of the Clean Water Act.
In addition, they are asking that the railroad be ordered to take unspecified steps “to ensure safe transport of oil and hazardous materials, hazardous substances, pollutants, and contaminants.”
In their joint filing announcing the litigation, the EPA and DOJ said they and other federal agencies are continuing to investigate the circumstances leading up to and following the derailment and that the government “will pursue further actions as warranted in the future as its investigatory work proceeds.”
As previously reported by The Well News, the state of Ohio has also filed a civil lawsuit seeking to hold the Class 1 railroad responsible for the derailment.