[Casey Thomason, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons]

Norfolk Southern Facing Big Lawsuits

Norfolk Southern received a bevy of lawsuits over its toxic derailment earlier in the month, but now, the corporation is being accused of trying to destroy evidence. 

Fortune Magazine reports, “Lawyers in proposed class actions over the Feb. 3 accident on Friday asked a federal judge to block the company from clearing the wreckage in East Palestine, Ohio. According to the lawyers, Norfolk Southern informed them last week that it planned to move the 11 railcars by March 1 and would only make them available for inspection for two days.

Adam Gomez, a lawyer for East Palestine residents, said in a court filing that it was “common sense” to keep the wreckage where it is for now. “These communities have questions and we need the evidence to answer them,” he said.

The derailment of the freight train headed to Pennsylvania from Illinois released toxic chemicals and prompted a brief evacuation of local residents. Norfolk Southern, along with the governors of Ohio and Pennsylvania, decided to initiate a controlled burn of the chemicals to mitigate the explosion risk. But East Palestine residents have since blamed the resulting cloud for reported headaches, lingering odors and pet deaths. 

Norfolk Southern representatives didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment. In a Feb. 23 letter to residents’ lawyers, the company said that, after March 1, ‘the rail cars will be removed or otherwise destroyed so that Norfolk Southern can continue its work at the site.’” 

The lawsuits claim that the company should be held responsible for exposing residents to cancer-causing chemicals and that Norfolk Southern’s attemps to mitigate the spill’s effects only made things much, much worse. 

Lawyers for the plaintiffs said, “From chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting to a substance responsible for the majority of chemical warfare deaths during World War I, the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities are facing an unprecedented array of threats to their health.”

“While the lives impacted by this wholly preventable catastrophe may never be the same, we are committed to holding Norfolk Southern accountable for its actions and inactions,’ they added.

Newsweek wrote that “Court documents alleged that the derailment released 1,109,400 pounds of vinyl chloride into the environment, whereas the total emissions from 38 facilities in the U.S. in 2021 was 428,522 pounds. The latter figure was confirmed by a January 2023 report by the Department of Health and Human services, and Newsweek has contacted the EPA for confirmation of the amount released near East Palestine.

Lawyers cited the chemical’s description by public health bodies as a known carcinogen, adding: ‘Residents exposed to Vinyl Chloride may already be undergoing DNA mutations that may not manifest as a clinical cancer diagnosis for years or decades.'”

The train company has shelled out over $6 million to derailment victims, but it’s safe to assume that they’ll need to do more. Norfolk Southern has seen a drop of $5 billion in market value since it spilled the toxic chemicals in Ohio.

The Biden Administration has received heavy criticism for its response to the environmental disaster. New Conservative Post, for example, wrote, “At first, it seemed like just typical Biden incompetence. Now, though, it looks like the president of the United States is purposely trying to insult the suffering people of East Palestine, Ohio, where a train derailment is causing the residents there to fall ill with a mystery sickness.” 

Last week, former President Donald Trump visited East Palestine to offer help to the town’s residents, while current President Joe Biden has chosen to visit Ukraine rather than Ohio. 

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