Ohio AG Joins List of Those Suing Norfolk Southern

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Although the costs of the East Palestine derailment’s response and long-term effects are far from being tallied, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost joined the entities filing about 20 lawsuits against Norfolk Southern.

The 58-count lawsuit filed in U.S. Northern District Court by Yost on Tuesday does not change any of the other civil lawsuits previously filed by businesses and residents, including requests to be class-action lawsuits.

While Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro has urged that state’s attorney general to look at criminal concerns and has openly criticized the actions of the railroad regarding the controlled release of the toxic chemicals and the communication and cooperation of the railroad in the days following the derailment, Yost said he sees those concerns as part of the discovery in Ohio’s lawsuit.

Although the lawsuit filed is 106 pages, Yost said his team continues to gather all of the facts. The lawsuit outlines the allegations of negligence that led to the derailment and release of more than a million gallons of hazardous chemicals, endangering the health of residents and Ohio’s natural resources.

Yost said he has a growing concern about the safety record of Norfolk, whose derailments have increased by 80% over the past decade, with 20 of them, including chemical spills, occurring since 2015.

“This derailment was entirely avoidable, and I’m concerned that Norfolk Southern may be putting profits for their own company above the health and safety of cities and communities that they operate in,” Yost said.

Detailing a visit to East Palestine village hall a few weeks ago, Yost said he heard from employees about their health concerns over being in the building that straddles Sulfur Creek, and after being there for only several minutes, Yost said he experienced “some discomfort” himself.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office has reported independent contractors continue high-pressure washing of the underground culverts off of Sulfur Run, due to contaminated sediments inside the culverts contributing to indoor odors in some area homes and businesses.

Yost said the derailment caused damage to the local economy, displaced local citizens and shut down businesses. He seeks to recover lost taxes, a declaration of Norfolk Southern’s responsibility for the damage and an order for the railroad to pay for all costs associated with the response by the state.

The Ohio EPA was in East Palestine hours following the derailment, followed by officials from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Health, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and the Ohio Department of Agriculture. 

Further, Yost said he has been in contact with local East Palestine officials, the fire and police departments and Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck about recovering all the costs the county has incurred responding to the Feb. 3 derailment.

“That meter is running,” Yost said. “We’ll tabulate it at some point, but it has not been tabulated yet.”

The CeramFab building on East Taggart Street is next to the train derailment site.

Yost’s lawsuit came a day after a lawsuit was filed by CeramFab Inc., a ceramics refractory manufacturer located just steps away from the derailment site and near where contaminated soil continues to be piled by Norfolk Southern cleanup crews. U.S. Sen. J.D. Vance, R-Ohio, was in East Palestine on Monday standing with the growing pile of soil in the background and urging the railroad and the U.S. EPA to make haste in getting the soil out of the village.

DeWine’s office has reported 27,700 tons of excavated soil are piled and awaiting removal, while only 3,200 tons have been removed.

Following the derailment and controlled burn, CeramFab and sister companies CeramSource Inc. and WYG Refractories – both less than a mile from the site – have been unable to keep more than a sporadic schedule for a couple of workers because of physical symptoms they report when inside the industrial plants for lengthy periods of time.

CeramFab’s attorneys spell out incidences of lost business due to an inability to fill orders and customers having to go elsewhere for products.

Norfolk Southern stock price has plunged since the day of the derailment. The company earned $12.7 billion in revenue in 2022. U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, has denounced the railroad for investing in a stock buyback program instead of railroad safety.

During his press conference Tuesday, Yost indicated he spoke on Monday with representatives from Norfolk Southern, including a couple of their attorneys, and did not find them uncooperative.

“Norfolk Southern recognizes that they caused the problems in East Palestine. They harmed the community and its people, as well as the state of Ohio, and they have expressed privately, as well as publicly, repeatedly, that they want to do the right thing,” Yost said.

The attorney general said he was very interested in some of the ideas Norfolk Southern tossed onto the table, including a fund to compensate those in East Palestine for lost real estate values, which he said is a concern of residents.

“For most of us, a house is the most important and largest investment we have,” Yost said. “The idea that it could be damaged or maybe even be rendered valueless by this train wreck is disturbing to them, to me, and I am pleased that Norfolk Southern at least recognizes that and feels that they have some responsibility to address that.”

Yost said there is also discussion about improving East Palestine’s water treatment infrastructure. Tests of the village’s water system have not found harmful levels of contaminants, nor have tests from 99 private wells. There have been 179 private systems tested total, including five that have been retested.

Yost said he and DeWine are concerned about the health impacts of residents, which may be more apparent down the road similar to what happened following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and for those returning from Operation Desert Storm.

DeWine reported Tuesday that a blue tick coonhound living near the derailment site died Monday, as well as two stray cats. The animals have been sent for a necropsy to check for chemical toxicity. Before their deaths, the cats reportedly were treated for eight days with upper respiratory issues, while the dog died after a period of lethargy, anorexia and drooling.

Residents suffering any health concerns can still go to the Ohio Department of Health’s Health Assessment Clinic at First Church of Christ on West Martin Street from noon to 8 p.m. today and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Thursday.

The Ohio EPA and U.S. EPA will both be available at a community open house event from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the East Palestine school gym.

Pictured at top: A view of the scene on Feb. 24, 2023, as the cleanup continued at the site of a Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, on Feb. 3. (AP Photo | Matt Freed)

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