The Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping enforcement action against Norfolk Southern on Tuesday, compelling the rail company to conduct and pay for cleanup actions associated with the Feb. 3 derailment of a train carrying toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.
“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” said EPA Administrator Michael Regan in remarks prepared for a news conference in East Palestine. “Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community.”
If the company fails to complete any of the actions ordered by the EPA, the agency will “immediately” conduct the necessary work and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost. The order will require the company to identify and clean contaminated soil and water; pay any EPA costs, including reimbursing the agency for cleaning services that it will offer to residents and businesses; and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information on-line.
The rail company already faces multiple class-action suits from members of the East Palestine community over the incident, which forced residents within roughly a mile radius to evacuate their homes.
The Ohio state attorney general’s office has also indicated it plans to take legal action against Norfolk Southern.
In a statement, Norfolk Southern said, "We recognize that we have a responsibility, and we have committed to doing what’s right for the residents of East Palestine. We have been paying for the cleanup activities to date and will continue to do so. We are committed to thoroughly and safely cleaning the site, and we are reimbursing residents for the disruption this has caused in their lives. We are investing in helping East Palestine thrive for the long-term, and we will continue to be in the community for as long as it takes. We are going to learn from this terrible accident and work with regulators and elected officials to improve railroad safety.”
Health clinic opens
After the derailment of the 150-car train carrying hazardous chemicals through the eastern Ohio town, Norfolk Southern released and burned a toxic chemical in the area to avoid an explosion.
On Tuesday, the Ohio Health Department opened a clinic in East Palestine to address mounting health concerns among residents.
The department said in a news release Sunday that it would open the clinic in partnership with the Columbiana County Health Department and with support from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
It said the clinic will be available to East Palestine-area residents “who have medical questions or concerns related to the recent train derailment.”
The EPA says it began testing air quality in the East Palestine area within 24 hours of the derailment, including the use of a mobile analytical laboratory. The agency said Tuesday that it has assisted with indoor air monitoring of more than 550 homes under a voluntary screening program offered to residents, and that “no detections of vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride were identified above levels of concern.” The EPA is testing to make sure home air concentration of the chemicals does not exceed 0.5 parts per million for vinyl chloride and 1.4 ppm for hydrogen chloride.
Regan expressed gratitude to first responders and EPA personnel on the ground in Ohio, and said that the EPA will “continue to coordinate closely with our local, state, and federal partners through a whole-of-government approach to support the East Palestine community during the remediation phase. To the people of East Palestine, EPA stands with you now and for as long as it may take.”