DOJ Sues Norfolk Southern For East Palestine Train Derailment

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern after one of its trains derailed in February 2023, releasing toxic chemicals over East Palestine, Ohio.

On Feb. 3, 2023, a Norfolk Southern train with 10 cars carrying hazardous materials derailed, causing the chemicals, vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, Ethylhexyl, and ethylene-glycol mono butyl ether, to spill on the ground and send a plume of smoke into the air. The crash forced nearly half of East Palestine’s population to evacuate.

According to a court document, the DOJ’s lawsuit claims that Norfolk Southern “unlawfully” polluted the nation’s waterways since the derailment resulted in a “controlled burn” of the chemicals.

The lawsuit states that Norfolk Southern would be responsible for paying the cost of environmental cleanup efforts and ensuring the secure transportation of toxic materials. Forbes reported that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered the train company to pay for the cost of the cleanup.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized for the effects of the derailment and pledged to pay for the cleanup during a Senate hearing.

“I’m terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community,” Shaw told the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “We’re going to be there for as long as it takes to help East Palestine thrive and recover.”

The EPA and train company are still performing cleanup efforts in the town. During a press conference in March 2023, EPA administrator Michael Regan said it would take three months to complete the cleanup.

The company’s website, “Making it Right in East Palestine,” states that Norfolk Southern “is working toward long-term funds to benefit East Palestine,” pledging more than $27 million in community support that includes scholarships for the town’s students, a new fitness center for first responders, reimbursements for the fire department, and other relief efforts.

More than 11,000 tons of contaminated soil and more than 9 million gallons of liquid wastewater have shipped from the derailment site.

“EPA has reviewed preliminary data from some of the soil sampling related to the controlled burn that occurred during response actions to the train derailment in East Palestine,” an EPA update read.

“While final results will be available in the coming weeks, EPA’s review of the preliminary data indicates levels of semi-volatile organic chemicals and dioxins in the samples are similar to typical background levels,” it added.

According to the update, air monitoring is continuing at 23 locations in East Palestine, and “no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride have been identified.”