May 19, 2024

Residents of East Palestine reach settlement with Norfolk Southern just past the one year anniversary of the derailment

More than a year after a Norfolk Southern freight train carrying hazardous chemicals caught on fire after derailing in East Palestine, Ohio, the residents have reached a settlement with the freight company. 

Following the trial, the members of the class action lawsuit were awarded the largest settlement in the history of American train derailments. 

Pictured above is an aerial view of the derailment still emitting smoke days after the incident occurred.

The freight company has agreed to pay $600 million to settle the class action lawsuit for all claims within 20 miles of the crash site and personal injury claims within 10 miles of the derailments. According to Reuters, lead attorney Jayne Conroy estimates that approximately 100,000 class members will qualify to receive parts of the settlement money. 

Norfolk is facing additional lawsuits from the state of Ohio and the federal government. The state originally sued the company in March 2023 to declare the company legally responsible for the accident, though Norfolk Southern has argued they are not solely to blame. 

In response to their own wave of lawsuits, Norfolk Southern sued several of the other companies connected to the incident, including Oxy Vinyls, the company who produces the vinyl chloride that burned in the derailment. However, the lawsuit was thrown out in court on the grounds that Oxy Vinyls’ chemical did not cause the derailment of 38 of Norfolk Southern’s freight cars. 

A report from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said the chemical is most commonly used “to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and vinyl products.” This would include pipes, wire, cable coating and packaging materials. It has also been used as a combustion agent in tobacco smoke. Smaller amounts can be used in furniture, upholstery and automotive parts, among other things. 

The EPA has also reported that long term exposure has been linked to “liver damage” and that “cancer is a major concern from exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation.” Rare forms of liver cancer have been linked to exposure in a toxicological profile for the substance, including hepatic angiosarcoma and primary liver cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma. 

Local East Palestine resident, Lisa Mahoney, told the Times that since the incident she has developed a number of alarming symptoms like Hemoptysis, or coughing blood. Other residents reported symptoms like “nausea, headaches, digestive problems, rashes and cysts around their mouths” within the year following the incident. 

Since the Feb. 3, 2023 derailment, the EPA has led the effort to restore the environment surrounding the crash site, including holding Norfolk Southern financially responsible. In addition to the $600 million settlement, the company has also been required to conduct regular air, soil and water testing. The results of which are available on their website

Many people living in East Palestine feel that the EPA and Norfolk Southern have neglected certain areas of testing. A local source, Spectrum News 1, spoke to Scott Smith, an independent scientist who found that the toxic equivalency (TEQ) score used to measure the dioxins released by the burning chemicals was “19 times higher” than the score reported by the EPA. 

With so much uncertainty and fear still circulating the community in East Palestine, many are asking how to move on with their lives. Despite the historic settlement, most residents of East Palestine can expect nearly $6,000 before legal fees. For those like Mahoney who live within a mile of the derailment site, this amount is far from life changing. 

The reality for many residents is they can’t afford to leave and the settlement does little to help. Though few have reported extreme sickness, it is unclear whether the cancer rates and long term exposure effects will increase in the coming years, potentially adding to the growing medical costs of those living in the affected area.

Author

  • Josie Speakman

    Josie is a first-year Political Science major with a Spanish minor on a Pre-Law track. In her free time, she enjoys reading and watching movies.

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