A class-action lawsuit has been filed against the Norfolk Southern Railway Co. on behalf of all residents within 30 miles of the site in East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailment occurred earlier this month, prompting a “controlled burn” of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals.
Johnson and Johnson has joined with class-action law firm Hagens Berman to claim that the legal doctrine of “public nuisance” applies in the case of the train’s derailment on February 3. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has already ordered the railroad to pay for cleanup, which some estimates say could cost up $1 billion. But residents in the area are afraid the toxins, including thousands of gallons of vinyl chloride, have polluted the air and water around them.
“All of our lawsuit’s proposed benefits would be above and beyond what the EPA would have for residents,” Hagens Berman managing partner Steve Berman told The Hill. “Additionally, we will want a say in what an effective cleanup is.”
Area residents affected by the train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout could be subject to a number of long-term health complications as a result of prolonged exposure to toxic substances despite officials’ assurances that the air and water in the town is safe, researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University said on Friday.
The researchers from Texas A&M and Carnegie Mellon said on Friday that nine of the approximately 50 chemicals that the EPA said were present on the derailed train have higher concentrations than normal in East Palestine. They were especially concerned with above-normal levels of acrolein, a substance with a pungent odor that is “highly toxic” when inhaled, according to a report from the CDC.
The derailment was caused by an overheated wheel bearing on the 23rd of 149 rail cars, according to a preliminary report issued Thursday by the National Transportation Safety Board. The derailment led to a decision to burn more than a hundred thousand gallons of highly toxic chemicals, leading to concerns the air and water in and around the town of 4,700 could be badly contaminated. While it was already believed the wreck was caused by a malfunctioning wheel, the NTSB report revealed new details.
“Surveillance video from a local residence showed what appeared to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the report stated.
Video footage obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette showed that the train had traveled more than 20 miles with the malfunctioning rail car axle, which appeared to have been on fire or shooting sparks.
Ben Zeisloft contributed to this report.
Related: East Palestine Residents Could See Long-Term Health Risks From ‘Highly Toxic’ Chemicals, Analysis Says