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Norfolk Southern submits remediation plan for derailment site in East Palestine

Two Norfolk Southern freight train cars sit on grass behind a barbed wire fence.
Gene J. Puskar
Some of the damaged Norfolk Southern freight trains that derailed Friday are in the process of being cleaned up on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2023, in East Palestine, Ohio.

Norfolk Southern is laying out its plan for the remediation of the area surrounding the 50-car train derailment in East Palestine. The train was carrying hazardous materials, leading to an evacuation of the town and a controlled release of the carcinogen vinyl chloride.

The company submitted a remediation plan to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency. The plan includes installing wells to monitor groundwater in East Palestine and sampling soil near the site of the controlled release of the toxic chemicals the train was carrying.

Norfolk Southern’s work in East Palestine is far from over, Assistant Vice President of Government Relations Darrell Wilson said.

“We are on site today with 100 contractors," Wilson said. "We have at least 30 NS people there on the ground working to still remove railcars.”

In a press release, Norfolk Southern said it have distributed more than $1 million to more than 700 families in the area to reimburse expenses incurred due to the evacuation. The company stressed that acceptance of reimbursements is not a settlement of any future claim and will not prevent residents from filing suit against the company at a later date. They also said they have donated air purifiers to residents, completed more than 300 in-home air tests with more than 100 additional tests scheduled and are currently testing well water in the area. A Potable Water Working Group has been created to monitor drinking water. Private wells are being prioritized.

“We are committed to be with that community to get it right," Wilson said. "We’ve told the governor that. We’ve told the mayor that.”

Several community members and business owners have filed class action negligence lawsuits against Norfolk Southern since the accident.

"For the process of damages and legal claims, that's going to play out over a longer period of time, but we're not going anywhere," Wilson said. "And the main line, our double main line track still runs through town. We're still running about 60 trains a day through there."

Norfolk Southern began running trains through the village again Feb. 9, and East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway was less than pleased.

"This isn't going to get swept under the rug," Conaway said at a press conference later that day. "I'm not going to be the country bumpkin that gets talked over by a big corporation."

He said he expects Norfolk Southern to make the situation right.

Norfolk Southern's latest report maintains that air quality is safe and that air monitoring is being performed every day. The company also stated in a FAQ that short term exposure to low levels of substances from the derailment do not present any long term health risks to residents.

Corrected: February 16, 2023 at 6:32 PM EST
A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled the name of East Palestine Mayor Trent Conaway. It has been updated.
Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.