IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Railroad company sued after derailment and chemical spill in Kentucky

Two people in Rockcastle County alleged that they were exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals from a train derailment last week.
A train derailed and spilled molten sulfur in a remote part of eastern Kentucky on Nov. 23, 2023.
A train derailed and spilled molten sulfur in a remote part of eastern Kentucky on Thursday.WLEX

A week after a train derailed and spilled toxic chemicals in a small Kentucky town, two residents have sued the railroad company CSX, alleging it was negligent and exposed them to ultrahazardous chemicals.

Two of the 16 CSX train cars that derailed were breached, spilling molten sulfur. They caught fire and burned for 24 hours, releasing toxic levels of the gas sulfur dioxide into the nearby town of Livingston.

Two residents of Rockcastle County accused CSX of exposing them to substances that "have been proven to cause long-term medical problems for humans" in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Eastern Kentucky.

The rail company said last week that molten sulfur is known to release sulfur dioxide when it burns.

CSX encouraged residents in Livingston to evacuate, causing more than 100 people to spend their Thanksgiving in hotel rooms in Mount Vernon, the railroad operator said last week.

The lawsuit alleges that the residents suffered chemical irritation in their throats, eyes, lungs, mouths and lips.

CSX said it is reviewing the allegations. The company, which provided lodging, supplies and food to residents affected by the derailment, said it will continue to provide support for the community.

"We pride ourselves on being a safe railroad, and in the rare occurrence of an incident like the one in Livingston, KY we respond quickly, prioritizing safety and supporting recovery of the community," said the company in an email.

The two women named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit — Lauren Webb and Debbie Francisco — live less than 2 miles from the site of the derailment. According to the lawsuit, their homes were covered in toxic smoke, endangering their families.

“Webb has suffered and continues to suffer from a sore throat, trouble breathing, headaches, and a respiratory infection since her exposure to the toxins released from the CSX train derailment,” the lawsuit says.

CSX said an investigation found that a failed wheel bearing caused the derailment.

The train cars, chemicals and 2,500 tons of affected soil were removed from the site by Sunday afternoon, CSX said in a statement Sunday. It said it is working to repair the tracks and restore service on the rail line.

The lawsuit alleges that the trackside detectors on the trains, which sound an alarm when the wheels reach abnormally high temperatures, were not placed close enough together or monitored closely enough.

The lawsuit, which does not specify an amount for the damages, seeks funding for a medical monitoring program and litigation expenses.