The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has ordered Norfolk Southern railroad to conduct all necessary actions associated with the cleanup from the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment, which occurred on February 3.
As part of EPA’s legally binding order, Norfolk Southern will be required to:
• Identify and clean up contaminated soil and water resources.
• Reimburse EPA for cleaning services to be offered to residents and businesses to provide an additional layer of reassurance, which will be conducted by EPA staff and contractors.
• Attend and participate in public meetings at EPA’s request and post information online.
• Pay for EPA’s costs for work performed under this order.
The EPA’s announcement, however, did not acknowledge the efforts Norfolk Southern has already undertaken. For instance, in a prior statement, the railroad noted that it “is committed to coordinating the cleanup project and paying for its associated costs. Several local, state and national authorities are working with Norfolk Southern to confirm the necessary cleanup standards to achieve and maintain a safe environment for residents. Recovery crews are using highly specialized systems in their work, and their efforts have resulted in safe air and municipal water sources, as validated by testing done by federal and state environmental and health agencies. Work will continue, under the oversight of the agencies, until the area is restored and in compliance with regulatory requirements.”
Roughly 4,500 cubic yards of contaminated soil have already been excavated and 1.5 million gallons of contaminated water have already been collected from the derailment site, according to Norfolk Southern. The material will be transported to landfills and disposal facilities that are designed to accept it safely in accordance with state and federal regulations.
As part of the EPA's order, the agency said it will approve a workplan outlining all steps necessary to clean up the environmental damage caused by the derailment. If Norfolk Southern fails to complete any actions as ordered by EPA, the agency said it will immediately step in, conduct the necessary work, and then seek to compel Norfolk Southern to pay triple the cost.
“The Norfolk Southern train derailment has upended the lives of East Palestine families, and EPA’s order will ensure the company is held accountable for jeopardizing the health and safety of this community,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan in a statement. “Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community. I’m deeply grateful to the emergency responders, including EPA personnel, who’ve been on the ground since day one and ensured there was no loss of life as a result of this disaster. As we transition from emergency response, EPA will continue to coordinate closely with our local, state, and federal partners through a whole-of-government approach to support the East Palestine community during the remediation phase.”
EPA said it will offer cleaning services to area businesses and families. Under the terms of the order, Norfolk Southern will reimburse EPA for the costs of these cleaning services.
To help implement the order, EPA will establish a “unified command structure” to coordinate the clean-up related efforts of FEMA, HHS, Ohio EPA, Ohio EMA, PA DEP, as well as Norfolk Southern. This approach is frequently used in situations where multiple agencies need to work together. In this case, the response includes federal, state and local agencies across multiple states.
EPA said this unilateral administrative order was issued pursuant to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, which gives EPA the authority to order those responsible for pollution to clean it up. The order takes effect two days after signature, though the cleanup work has already begun and will continue.
“Our company will be working tirelessly every day to get East Palestine back on its feet as soon as possible,” said Alan Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern, in a statement. “We know we will be judged by our actions, and we are taking this accountability and responsibility very seriously.”
More information about EPA’s ongoing response to the East Palestine train derailment is available on EPA’s website: https://response.epa.gov/EastPalestineTrainDerailment.