Ohio sues Norfolk Southern for ‘entirely avoidable’ train derailment

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost on Tuesday announced that the state is suing Norfolk Southern after a train carrying hazardous materials derailed and caught fire last month near East Palestine, requiring residents to temporarily evacuate and prompting ongoing environmental concerns.

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Yost announced the lawsuit at a news conference Tuesday afternoon, WHIO-TV reported.

“Ohio shouldn’t have to bear the tremendous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s glaring negligence,” he said, according to WHIO. “The fallout from this highly preventable incident may continue for years to come, and there’s still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.”

In the 58-page lawsuit, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, officials called the derailment “entirely avoidable.” It was “the direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits above the health, safety, and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates,” according to the suit.

Authorities asked a judge to force Norfolk Southern to pay damages and to foot the bill to monitor soil and groundwater contamination in the area around the site of the derailment.

Earlier, the head of the National Transportation Safety Board said the derailment was “100% preventable.” The agency is among those investigating the incident.

Just before 9 p.m. on Feb. 3, a Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Authorities said 38 cars derailed and 12 others were damaged by fire. Eleven of the derailed cars carried hazardous materials, officials said.

In its initial report, the NTSB said the train crew slowed the locomotive after an alarm went off, warning them to check a hot axle. Workers saw smoke and fire after an automatic emergency brake initiated and the train came to a stop. Surveillance video from a home nearby showed what appeared to be “a wheel bearing in the final stage of overheat failure” a short while before the derailment, the NTSB said.

Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized last week during a hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, The Associated Press reported.

“I’m terribly sorry for the impact this derailment has had on the folks of that community,” he said, according to the AP. “We’re going to be there for as long as it takes to help East Palestine thrive and recover.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Norfolk Southern to identify and clean any contaminated soil and water resources. The NTSB has also launched an investigation into the company’s culture and safety practices.

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