Pennsylvania school district sues Norfolk Southern over East Palestine train derailment


(NEW YORK) — Pennsylvania’s Blackhawk School District has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern alleging various causes of action including negligence in last month’s train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and subsequent controlled release of toxic chemicals.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, alleges that the derailment and burning of the contents of the rail cars “caused toxic, hazardous, and dangerous chemicals to be released onto and into the ground, into the air, and into the surface and subsurface waterways and groundwater.”

A Norfolk Southern freight train derailed in East Palestine on Feb. 3. It was carrying hazardous materials, including combustible liquids, flammable liquids, and flammable gas, and toxic chemicals that subsequently ignited.

Norfolk Southern used explosives to breach the tanker railcars and drained the contents into the ground before burning them.

The Blackhawk School District alleges that the toxic fires and intentional release of dangerous and toxic chemicals contaminated its lands and buildings. The district alleges that “toxic fires and deadly plumes dumped a lethal cocktail on its buildings, property soil and water supplies where deposits of the toxic materials have been found,” the suit said.

According to a letter released by the Environmental Protection Agency, vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether were released during the incident and have been detected in samples from several creeks near the derailment site.

The district said it has lands and buildings are all within a 15-mile radius of East Palestine, according to the lawsuit.

The suit alleges that the train derailment occurred due to Norfolk Southern’s breach of its duty of care by negligent and reckless acts and omissions. The district alleges that Norfolk Southern’s breach of its duty of care caused medical and health issues for its students and staff; testing and monitoring the impact on its property and water sources; monetary expenses for cleanup of property and drinking water; and damage to the property.

The district also alleges that Norfolk Southern failed to require pre-departure inspection and periodic inspection of freight cars and that it violated regulations forbidding a railroad from placing or continuing to place a railroad car in service if it has an axle that is broken.

The rail operator will be required to continue cleaning up the contaminated soil and water and transport it safely; reimburse the EPA for cleaning services; and attend public meetings at the EPA’s request and share information, U.S. EPA Administrator Michael Regan announced on Feb. 21. If Norfolk Southern does not comply, the company will be ordered to pay triple the cost.

The school district is asking for a trial by jury, compensatory and statutory damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees and relief including future medical monitoring, according to the suit.

On Feb. 13, Norfolk Southern said the company was committing $1 million to a community support fund as a “down payment” on its contribution to rebuilding the village.

On Feb. 24, Norfolk Southern announced it will commit $300,000 to the East Palestine School District and reimbursed the fire department roughly $825,000 for its equipment.

Earlier this month, Ohio sued Norfolk Southern over the train derailment alleging the railway operator violated various federal and state environmental laws and Ohio Common Law, “recklessly endangering” the health of residents and Ohio’s natural resources, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost said.

After the Ohio lawsuit was announced, Norfolk Southern said that said it is “listening closely to concerns from the community about whether there could be long-term impacts from the derailment.”

“We are making progress every day cleaning the site safely and thoroughly, providing financial assistance to residents and businesses that have been affected, and investing to help East Palestine and the communities around it thrive,” Norfolk Southern said in a statement.

Adding, “Many residents are worried about what they will do if health impacts related to the derailment are discovered years from now. We appreciate Ohio Governor Mike DeWine’s leadership and advocacy on this point. To date, environmental monitoring continues to show the air and drinking water are safe. To provide an additional level of assurance, we are committed to a solution that addresses long-term health risks through the creation of a long-term medical compensation fund.”

Norfolk Southern declined to comment to ABC News on the lawsuit, saying it doesn’t comment on litigation.

Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.