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EPA orders Norfolk Southern to clean up contaminants near train derailment

Federal officials shift from emergency phase to remediation following the derailment.
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Posted at 10:46 AM, Feb 21, 2023

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Tuesday it is ordering Norfolk Southern to conduct a cleanup of contaminated soil and water resources near the site of the Feb. 3 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

The EPA also ordered Norfolk Southern to reimburse the EPA for cleaning services that will be offered to residents and businesses. These cleaning services will be conducted by the EPA and government contractors.

Norfolk Southern will also be ordered to attend public meetings and provide updates online. This comes after Norfolk Southern leaders skipped a public meeting last week, citing safety concerns.

The EPA said if Norfolk Southern refuses the order, it will require the company to pay triple the costs.

“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. “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. I’m deeply grateful to the emergency responders, including EPA personnel, who’ve been on the ground since day one and ensured there was no loss of life as a result of this disaster.”

As part of Tuesday’s order, the EPA said it is leading a coordinated cleanup effort with state and local officials in addition to Norfolk Southern.

Norfolk Southern said that it met with residents over the weekend. It also has claimed to have excavated 4,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil and collected 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water from the derailment site.

Although officials say the air is safe, there remain lingering concerns over the long-term impacts after vinyl chloride and other chemicals were released into the atmosphere.

State officials ordered the town to evacuate late on Feb. 5, nearly 48 hours after the derailment. Within days, residents were allowed to return.

DeWine said the water is currently safe to drink but that the state would continue to conduct additional testing. He said residents are most concerned about the long-term effects from the derailment.

“We will continue to do what needs to be done in the weeks and the months and years as we go forward," he said.

While the derailment took place in Ohio, the site was just miles from the Pennsylvania border. Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro said state officials are opening a criminal investigation to look into the incident.

"We will hold accountable Norfolk Southern, the company that made this vigilance necessary," Shapiro said. "The combination of Norfolk Southern's corporate greed, incompetence, and lack of care for our residents is absolutely unacceptable to me."