Ohio is suing the Norfolk Southern Railway after one of its trains derailed in East Palestine with toxic chemicals on board, Attorney General Dave Yost announced Tuesday.
The 58-count lawsuit filed in federal court is the strongest rebuke of Norfolk Southern since a train spilled hazardous materials into the air, water and soil on Feb. 3, rattling the small village of 4,700 along the Ohio-Pennsylvania border. Five of the derailleur cars contained vinyl chloride, which Norfolk Southern officials released to prevent an explosion.
The train derailed moments after crew members became aware of an overheated wheel bearing and tried to stop, according to preliminary findings from the National Transportation Safety Board.
The wreck and subsequent controlled release of vinyl chloride temporarily forced people out of their homes. While state and federal officials say the water and municipal water are now safe, residents worry about the long-term health effects of the derailment.
The lawsuit seeks to force Norfolk Southern to pay for costs incurred by the state, including the emergency response, economic damage and harm to natural resources. It also asks the court to order the company to conduct future soil and groundwater monitoring and prevent them from disposing of contaminated soil at the derailment site.
Yost said it’s impossible to know at this point how expensive the recovery will be.
“This was an epic disaster,” he said. “The cleanup is going to be expensive, and it’s going to take some significant dollars to put the people of East Palestine back as close as possible to the position they were before Feb. 3.”
NTSB chairs: Norfolk Southern’s new safety measures ‘not robust enough’
Headaches, coughing, burning of the skin: Symptoms Ohio residents have experienced after toxic train derailment
Lawsuits: Norfolk Southern released 1.1M pounds of vinyl chloride after derailment
Yost previously warned Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw that his office was considering legal action, according to a letter obtained by the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau. Yost instructed the company to preserve all information relevant to the lawsuit, including employee and contractor records.
The state’s action follows roughly two dozen lawsuits filed on behalf of residents and businesses who say they’ve been affected by the derailment.
Since the incident, Shaw has repeatedly pledged that Norfolk Southerners will not leave East Palestine until the community is safe and cleaned up.
AG: Lawsuit will ensure Norfolk Southern keeps promises
Yost said company officials have been cooperative during recent meetings and floated possible funding to help residents pay for long-term medical issues and losses to their property values.
“There’s a long way between expressing willingness and a final program that’s going to adequately address the damage that’s been done here,” Yost said. “This lawsuit is designed to make sure Norfolk Southern keeps their word to the people of East Palestine and the people of Ohio.”
Company officials reiterated those promises in a statement Tuesday and said they also plan to work on programs to protect local drinking water over the long term.
“We look forward to working toward a final resolution with Attorney General Yost and others as we coordinate with his office, community leaders, and other stakeholders to finalize the details of these programs,” the statement said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said last week that Norfolk Southern is committed to spending over $7 million to help residents, local fire departments and state agencies recover. The state’s attorney general is investigating the derailment.
Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Ohio train derailment: AG Dave Yost sues Norfolk Southern