State of Ohio sues the operator of toxic train derailment in the U.S.

Archive – The train loaded with toxic substances in Ohio, U.S.A. – NTSB / XINHUA NEWS / CONTACTOPHOTO

The state of Ohio (United States) has denounced Norfolk Southern, the operator of the train with toxic substances that derailed in February, as confirmed by the Attorney General of Ohio, Dave Yost.

According to the federal complaint, detailed by Yost, the company has allegedly failed to comply with numerous state laws, as well as violating the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act.

»This derailment was completely preventable,» he explained at a press conference Tuesday, in statements reported by CNN, »and I am concerned that Norfolk Southern is putting their company’s profits above the health and safety of the cities and communities in which they operate.»

The company issued a statement Tuesday saying it is making progress in cleaning up the area, as well as providing funds for affected people and businesses and investing in the community.

According to a statement from company spokesman Connor Spielmaker, they are »listening carefully to the community’s concerns about whether there could be long-term impact as a result of the derailment,» as well as confirming that they have met with the Ohio Attorney General to explore further ways to mitigate the damage from the accident.

In early March, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered Norfolk Southern to test the river water near the accident to ensure, as preliminary tests have shown, the absence of dioxin contaminants and to rule out medium- to long-term effects on the public.

The company’s CEO, Alan Shaw, assured the U.S. Senate last week that Norfolk Southern »will clean up the site safely, completely and urgently», as well as assuring his »personal commitment» and affirming that he is »willing to fix this».

U.S. health authorities and residents of the Ohio town of East Palestine are in a period of serious uncertainty as they await the long-term effects of the Feb. 3 derailment of a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals that forced the temporary evacuation of the town, whose citizens are demanding a full investigation of what happened before they can resume their normal lives.

Part of this investigation concerns the train itself, operated by Norfolk Southern. Company employees, on condition of anonymity, revealed this week to the CBS network that the vehicle had experienced mechanical failures two days before the derailment and that it was carrying a clearly excessive load: 151 cars, including some 20 with harmful elements, for a total weight of some 18,000 tons. So far, the US National Transportation Safety Board has found »preliminary indications of mechanical problems in one of the axles», pending further information.

A total of 38 of these cars ended up off the track, of which at least eleven contained butyl acrylate and, above all, vinyl chloride gas, used in the manufacture of plastics and potentially carcinogenic. The fire triggered by the derailment — accompanied by an explosion that sent a fireball almost a kilometer high — forced the immediate evacuation of a good part of the 4,700 residents of East Palestine due to the release of the gas in the derailed cars and in the other nine cars with toxic substances that were still on the track.