Ohio filed a lawsuit against railroad Norfolk Southern to make sure it pays for the cleanup and environmental damage caused by a fiery train derailment on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border last month, the state's attorney general said Tuesday.
The federal lawsuit also seeks to force the company to pay for groundwater and soil monitoring in the years ahead and economic losses in the village of East Palestine and surrounding areas, said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.
“The fallout from this highly preventable accident is going to reverberate throughout Ohio for many years to come," Yost said.
No one was hurt in the Feb. 3 derailment, but half of the roughly 5,000 residents of East Palestine had to evacuate for days when responders intentionally burned toxic chemicals in some of the derailed cars to prevent an uncontrolled explosion, leaving residents with lingering health concerns. Government officials say tests over the past month haven’t found dangerous levels of chemicals in the air or water in the area.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized before Congress last week for the impact the derailment has had on the area, but he didn't make specific commitments to pay for long-term health and economic harm.
The railroad has promised more than $20 million so far to help the Ohio community recover while also announcing several voluntary safety upgrades.
Norfolk Southern said Tuesday in a response to the lawsuit that it was listening to concerns from the community and planning to take additional steps to deal with some of those.
The railroad is working on creating a long-term medical compensation fund, a way to provide protection for home sellers if their property loses value because of the derailment, and improving drinking water protections, it said in a statement.
The lawsuit also asks for the railroad to reimburse first responders and state agencies for the costs of dealing with the disaster.
How much money the state is seeking isn't known yet because the response is ongoing, but Yost made it clear the cost will be enormous. “This was an epic disaster. The cleanup is going to be expense, ” he said.
Ohio officials met with Norfolk Southern representatives on Monday and talked about several possible ways to help the people in East Palestine, including enhancing the village's water treatment operations, Yost said.
The state attorney general said he was pleased that the railroad has indicated it wants to do the right thing and that the lawsuit will make sure it keeps its promise.
Many in East Palestine remain outraged at the railroad and worried about what will become of the village.
Those fears include concerns about their long-term health, their house values and the economic future for local businesses.