EPA Orders Norfolk Southern to Clean Up Contaminated Soil and Water After Train Derailment in Ohio
Following a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio on February 3, The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has taken control over the situation, ordering the rail company Norfolk Southern to conduct cleanup actions and cover costs related to the incident.
The EPA’s order, which is legally binding, requires Norfolk Southern to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for cleaning services offered to local residents and businesses, attend and participate in public meetings and provide information online and pay for the EPA’s costs for work related to the order.
The EPA is conducting air monitoring at selected locations near the site of the train derailment as part of its emergency response, including at local schools, residential areas, government buildings and upwind of, downwind of and at the site. The agency has measured for lower explosive limits, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hydrogen sulfide, benzene, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen chloride, phosgene and particulate matter and is collecting air samples for VOCs, vinyl chloride, n-butyl acrylate and ethylhexyl acrylate.
With the EPA taking over the response to the situation, it will approve of an action plan that includes all steps needed to clean up the local environment at the site of the train derailment. Should Norfolk Southern fail to complete any of the actions in the EPA’s order, the EPA will complete the work and require Norfolk Southern to pay triple the costs of the plan.
The EPA will offer cleaning services to local residents and businesses to handle potential indoor air pollution related to the train derailment. More information about the available cleaning services will be available later this week.
“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,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement. “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.”
A train carrying hazardous chemicals, including vinyl chloride, was traveling through East Palestine. Despite its cargo, the train was not marked as hazardous. It derailed, likely due to a overheat failure in a wheel bearing, according to initial findings from the National Transportation Safety Board. Investigations of the cause are still ongoing.
Norfolk Southern told NPR that it understands its responsibility in the incident and has committed over $6 million so far to East Palestine. The company also said it plans to improve railroad safety. Officials, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, have criticized the company, noting it already spends over $1 billion annually on safety improvements.
The environment affected by the derailment is still being cleaned up, with 4,600 cubic yards of soil and over 1 million gallons of water removed so far, as NPR reported. The EPA has also helped conduct air monitoring in over 550 homes in the area, and the agency said it has not detected indoor vinyl chloride or hydrogen chloride to be “above levels of concern.”
Ohio officials have opened a local health clinic for East Palestine residents, who have reported health issues including headaches, rashes, difficulty breathing and nausea. The EPA has also announced an East Palestine information line, 215-814-2400, which is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Eastern Time, for concerned parties to call for more information.