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Norfolk Southern will pay $310 million for 2023 Ohio train derailment

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

For more than a year, residents of East Palestine, Ohio, have worried about the impact of a train derailment there in 2023 near the Pennsylvania-Ohio border. Today the EPA announced that it has reached a $310 million settlement with Norfolk Southern, money that's designated for cleanup, water testing and health monitoring. But as the Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier reports, some say that is not enough.

REID FRAZIER, BYLINE: The accident in East Palestine caused alarm for the small town. Eleven cars containing vinyl chloride and other hazardous chemicals spilled and caught fire. A heavy black cloud of smoke spread over the region. EPA Administrator Michael Regan outlined the details of the settlement. He says a big chunk of the money - about $235 million - will pay for the EPA's work to clean up the site. In addition, Norfolk Southern has agreed to invest $200 million in rail safety enhancements.

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MICHAEL REGAN: Had these provisions been in place on February 3, 2023, this disaster may never have happened in the first place.

FRAZIER: Safety officials say the accident occurred after a wheel bearing on one railcar overheated, sending dozens of others off the tracks. Since the derailment, some in Congress have asked the rail industry to implement a number of safety provisions. And Regan says part of the agreement with Norfolk Southern calls for it to install more wheel bearing detectors and use better railcars for hazardous chemicals.

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REGAN: Considering its large market share, we expect that these required provisions will advance safer practices across the railroad industry for many years to come.

FRAZIER: Many near the site say they've experienced ill health effects like headaches and rashes since the derailment. The settlement addresses that and includes $25 million for community health benefits, such as screenings and tests. It also includes millions more for surface and groundwater testing. Regan says there's also a civil penalty of $15 million.

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REGAN: The highest penalty allowed by law under the Clean Water Act given the facts of the case and the violations that have been alleged.

FRAZIER: This agreement comes a month after Norfolk Southern agreed to pay $600 million to settle a class action lawsuit filed by residents and businesses in East Palestine, and it spent millions cleaning up the site - now this new agreement for $310 million. But not everyone likes the deal.

HILLARY FLINT: It just seems like pennies. They're a multibillion-dollar company.

FRAZIER: Hillary Flint has had health problems since the train derailed four miles from her home in western Pennsylvania. She's an organizer with Clean Air Action Fund and another local environmental group. Flint wants free health care for life for the community.

FLINT: I think when we look back at this in five to 10 years, we're going to look at this agreement and be, you know, even more angry than I am today because this is going to continue to be a problem.

FRAZIER: The agreement is subject to a public comment period and will need to be approved by a federal judge. For NPR News, I'm Reid Frazier in Pittsburgh.

(SOUNDBITE OF CITY OF THE SUN'S "NASCOSTO NEL MONDO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Reid Frazier
[Copyright 2024 The Allegheny Front]