Federal officials announced Tuesday that Norfolk Southern—whose train derailed this month in Ohio while carrying toxic materials—will be forced to foot the bill for the entirety of the catastrophe’s cleanup.
It’s an expensive blow to Norfolk Southern, which already faces a growing number of lawsuits from residents of East Palestine, Ohio, where the fiery crash occurred on Feb. 2 and contamination fears remain.
The administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency, Michael Regan, said Tuesday that the feds are ordering Norfolk Southern to pony up for all cleanup operations that have already been carried out by the government, and that the rail company must facilitate the remainder of the site’s cleanup.
“Let me be clear: Norfolk Southern will pay for cleaning up the mess they created and for the trauma they’ve inflicted on this community,” he said at a press conference Tuesday. “In no way shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess they created.”
If Norfolk Southern fails in any aspect of cleanup, Regan says it’ll be forced to pay three times whatever it costs a governmental agency—or contractor—to do the job.
Regan spoke from East Palestine, a town of 5,000 on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, along with Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro.
“It was my view that Norfolk Southern wasn’t going to do this out of the goodness in their heart,” Shapiro said. “There is no goodness in their heart.”
Shapiro said Norfolk Southern “failed’ in its management of the crisis, adding that he’d made a criminal referral for an investigation into the company. He suggested the probe would explore whether the Norfolk Southern was negligent in how it transported toxic materials, how it reported its cargo, and its response after the derailment.
Regan specified that Norfolk Southern will have to identify and clean up contaminated soil and water, reimburse the EPA for cleaning services offered to residents and businesses, and pay for the future work done by the EPA.
The feds also ordered Norfolk Southern to participate in any public meetings the EPA asks them to join—something the rail company was skittish about doing on their own, skipping a town hall with residents last week.
Fears about contamination in East Palestine have been rampant since the derailment sent plumes of smoke over the city for days.
In an effort to quell residents’ fears, DeWine and Regan toured homes in East Palestine on Tuesday and drank tap water from them. Local authorities have insisted the city’s water supply is safe, but have told those who rely on wells—both in East Palestine and in nearby communities—to continue using bottled water for now.
Much remains unknown about what the derailment means for the health of East Palestine residents, some of whom have complained about burning skin and migraines. DeWine suggested Tuesday that he’d push for Norfolk Southern to pay any medical costs for those impacted by the derailment.
A health clinic opened Tuesday at a church in East Palestine to help those who believe they were exposed to toxins. Authorities said the clinic will admit Pennsylvania residents concerned about contamination as well.
“The headaches when you’re home are pretty much nonstop,” Kelly Izotic, who lives by the derailment site, told WGAL. “They’re awful. Also, if you’re outside for more than 15, 20 minutes to start feeling the congestion, heaviness in your chest. I take showers; we have well water. My skin burns. It’s really devastating.”