June 23, 2024

The freight train company involved in a disastrous, pollution-spewing derailment in Ohio last year has agreed to a $310m settlement with the US government over the incident.

Norfolk Southern will pay a $15m civil penalty for violating clean water laws and pay hundreds of millions more in cleanup costs in the wake of the derailment, which occurred near the town of East Palestine in February last year.

After the train hurtled off the track, it was soon ascertained by authorities that it was carrying thousands of gallons of hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, a carcinogenic petrochemical gas used in plastic production.

Three days later, authorities set fire to the vinyl chloride in an effort to prevent a dangerous explosion, producing a huge black funnel cloud. Residents immediately began complaining of strange odors as well as nausea and headaches.

The US justice department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sued Norfolk Southern in March last year to ensure that the railroad pays the full cost of cleanup and any long-term effects of the disastrous derailment.

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In the settlement deal announced on Thursday, once approved by the US district court in Ohio, Norfolk Southern will have to take measures to improve rail safety and processes in response to disasters, pay for health monitoring and mental health services for the surrounding communities, fund long-term environmental monitoring, and fund the protection of nearby waterways.

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” said Michael Regan, the EPA administrator.

“That’s why President Biden pledged from the beginning that his administration would stand with the community every step of the way. Today’s enforcement action delivers on this commitment, ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again.”

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