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Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department officials announced a lawsuit on Friday against Norfolk Southern, the company at the center of the train derailment and subsequent chemical fallout in East Palestine, Ohio.
Local and state authorities previously evacuated all residents within one mile of the February 3 derailment and started a controlled burn of substances on the vehicle. Vinyl chloride, a human carcinogen used to manufacture PVC, was emitted from five train cars in the form of massive plumes of black smoke visible throughout eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Residents have since raised the alarm over health symptoms they experienced after the controlled burn.
The two agencies filed a complaint seeking “penalties and injunctive relief for the unlawful discharge of pollutants, oil, and hazardous substances” under the Clean Water Act, as well as “declaratory judgment on liability for past and future costs” related to the incident under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”
The complaint from the EPA and Justice Department said materials released from the train cars, such as vinyl chloride, ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, and benzene residue, have been “associated variously” with impaired fetal development, organ damage, cancers, and other health conditions with a sufficiently high degree of exposure. State and federal officials have repeatedly claimed that the air and water supplies in East Palestine are safe for residents.
Researchers from Texas A&M University and Carnegie Mellon University nevertheless found that nine chemicals present on the train have higher concentrations than normal in the town’s air and water supplies, posing the risk of long-term health complications to residents. Texas A&M researcher Ivan Rusyn previously told The Daily Wire that environmental officials have not provided “the full context into which the actual data collected by them could be placed,” particularly with respect to the long-term health risks posed by exposure to the chemicals.
EPA Administrator Michael Regan said that the cleanup from the derailment will take three months. The state of Ohio has also filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern in federal court in an attempt to hold the firm financially liable for the disaster.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw testified before Congress earlier this month regarding the derailment but made no specific promises regarding the firm’s commitment to handle economic and health fallout into the future. Another train controlled by Norfolk Southern derailed in Alabama as Shaw delivered his testimony.
Federal investigators have preliminarily concluded that the derailment was caused by a malfunctioning rail axle. “Surveillance video from a residence showed what appears to be a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure moments before the derailment,” the National Transportation Safety Board said in a press release. “The wheelset from the suspected railcar has been collected as evidence for metallurgical examination.”