The United States Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Norfolk Southern after the train derailment in East Palestine.

 A complaint filed Thursday in U.S. District Court in Youngstown by the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice alleges that Norfolk Southern is accountable for unlawfully polluting the nation's waterways and aims to ensure the company pays the full cost of the environmental cleanup.

The civil lawsuit was filed on behalf of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency seeking recovery of response costs to the Feb 3 derailment and cleanup, alleging violations of the federal Clean Water Act covering the discharge of pollutants and oil into local waterways. According to court records, the U.S. claims the derailment led to the combustion of the hazardous materials carried on the train and their subsequent release into the air, soil, groundwater, and waterways.

Alleging that approximately eighty percent of the compensation for Norfolk Sothern’s executives is based on performance to motivate and reward them for increasing revenue, improving operating efficiency, and reducing expenses of its railroad subsidiaries, the complaint notes that over the past four years, annual reports show a stark contrast between the increases in operating income and the drop in railroad operating costs.

The government further alleges that the drop in operating costs included reductions in spending to repair, service, and maintain locomotives and freight cars, perform train inspections, and pay engine crews and train crew.

Government attorneys say the derailment, fire, and firefighting efforts, permitted hazardous materials, such as vinyl chloride, naphthalene, petroleum, butyl acrylate, ethylhexyl acrylate, and ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, to reach the air, soil, and waterways.

 Naphthalene, which is classified as a hazardous substance under the Clean Water Act, and other petroleum hydrocarbons have been detected in sampling in Sulphur Run and Leslie Run.

Run-off from firefighting efforts resulted in additional contaminants and pollutants entering the soil, tributary, local waterways, and other areas, according to the complaint.

In addition, the EPA says the venting and burning of rail cars containing vinyl chloride also caused the release of hazardous materials into the environment.

The government expects the continued sampling, analysis, and monitoring, as well as additional cleanup efforts, are likely to detect additional chemical substances that were created during the mixing and burning of substances released from the rail cars.

The hazardous materials from the derailed cars entered Sulphur Run, Leslie Run, Bull Creek, the North Fork of the Little Beaver Creek, Little Beaver Creek, and the Ohio River via discharge to a tributary and Sulphur Run.



Thousands of aquatic animals were killed in the five-mile span of the waterway from the derailment site to where Bull Creek flows into the North Fork of Little Beaver Creek because of the release of contaminants into the water, claims the lawsuit.

“When a Norfolk Southern train derailed last month in East Palestine, Ohio, it released toxins into the air, soil, and water, endangering the health and safety of people in surrounding communities,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. “With this complaint, the Justice Department and the EPA are acting to pursue justice for the residents of East Palestine and ensure that Norfolk Southern carries the financial burden for the harm it has caused and continues to inflict on the community.”


The government says it wants to recover the EPA’s costs to sample, test, and monitor air and soil in and around the site since the derailment, as well as provide information to the community about the ongoing cleanup efforts.

The EPA says it continues to oversee work done by Norfolk Southern in East Palestine, including the removal of contaminated materials.

The complaint is asking the court to order civil penalties of $64,618 per day and another of $55,808 per day or $2,232 per barrel of oil or per unit of hazardous substances.

The lawsuit also asks the judge to make Norfolk Southern take action to ensure the safe transport of oil and hazardous materials.

The Justice Department also wants Norfolk Southern to take action to mitigate and offset the harm to public health caused by the derailment.

“From the very beginning, I pledged to the people of East Palestine that EPA would hold Norfolk Southern fully accountable for jeopardizing the community’s health and safety,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “No community should have to go through what East Palestine residents have faced."

The railroad has 21 days to respond to the suit.