Yost said he is seeking to hold the company financially accountable for the Feb. 3 incident, which released more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost announced Tuesday that the state has filed a 58-count civil lawsuit in federal court against Norfolk Southern over last month’s East Palestine train derailment.
Yost said he is seeking to hold the company financially accountable for the Feb. 3 incident, which released more than 1 million gallons of hazardous chemicals. “recklessly endangering” the health of residents and natural resources of Ohio.
“Ohio should not bear the enormous financial burden of Norfolk Southern’s egregious negligence,” Yost said. “The effects of this preventable incident could continue for years, and there is still so much we don’t know about the long-term effects on our air, water and soil.”
Yost said during the press conference that while Norfolk Southern has repeatedly said it will fix the situation, this lawsuit ensures the company keeps its word.
The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, cites an increase in accidents in South Norfolk. Yost’s office says speeds have increased by 80% in the past decade, and at least 20 of the company’s derailments since 2015 have been linked to chemical releases.
“The derailment was completely avoidable and was a direct result of Norfolk Southern’s practice of putting its own profits ahead of the health, safety and welfare of the communities in which Norfolk Southern operates,” the lawsuit states.
Norfolk Southern has been cited for numerous violations of various federal and state environmental laws and Ohio common law. The Attorney General’s Office provided the following list of what those charges include:
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA)
- Ohio Hazardous Waste Law
- Ohio Water Pollution Control Act
- Ohio Solid Waste Law
- Ohio Air Pollution Control Act
- Common law negligence
- Common law public nuisance
- General law
Yost said the common law tort includes a charge of negligence related to defects in the train and its operation. Nuisance counts include releases of chemicals to air, public waterways, and public lands, while violation counts relate to pollution of natural resources.
The lawsuit says the violations resulted in the release of an unknown amount of pollutants that pose a significant or long-term threat to human health and the environment.
Chemical emissions from at least 39 vehicles entered Sulfur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, North Fork, Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, the Ohio River and/or some as-yet-unknown Ohio waterways, it said in the lawsuit.
It also claims that the derailment “caused significant harm to Ohio’s regional economy, its citizens and businesses. Citizens of the region have been displaced, their lives disrupted, and businesses closed.”
Yost says Ohio is entitled to recover lost taxes and other economic losses, and the state is seeking relief, civil penalties, costs and damages, including:
- Declaratory judgment finding Norfolk Southern liable.
- Coverage for costs and damages under CERCLA and Ohio emergency response law.
- Compensation for damage in accordance with common law – in particular, damage to natural resources, property and economic damage to the state and its inhabitants.
- Reimbursement of common law costs, including current and future costs incurred by the state in responding to emergencies, providing public services, preventing future harm to the environment and public health, restoring natural resources, and abating nuisances.
- Civil penalties under state environmental laws.
- Reimbursement of legal costs.
The complaint seeks a minimum of $75,000 in federal damages, but the attorney general’s office says damages will likely exceed that amount as the situation continues to unfold.
Yost is asking the court to require Norfolk Southern to conduct future soil and groundwater monitoring at the site, surrounding areas and beyond.
In addition, the lawsuit prohibits the company from disposing of additional waste at the site and polluting Ohio waters.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw apologized to Congress last week for the impact the derailment has had on East Palestine and surrounding communities, but he made no specific commitment to pay for the long-term health and economic damage.
The railroad has pledged more than $20 million so far to help the Ohio community recover, and announced several voluntary safety upgrades. A message seeking comment on the lawsuit was left with Norfolk Southern.
Many in East Palestine still resent the railroad and worry about what will happen to the village.
These fears include concerns about their long-term health, home values and the economic future of local businesses.