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Norfolk Southern reaches a multimillion-dollar settlement over Ohio train derailment

Debris from a Norfolk Southern freight train lies scattered and burning along the tracks on Feb. 4, 2023, the day after it derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. A federal judge has signed off Tuesday, May 21, 2024, on the $600 million class action settlement over last year's disastrous Norfolk Southern derailment in eastern Ohio, but many people who live near East Palestine are still wondering how much they will end up with out of the deal.
Gene J. Puskar/AP
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AP
Debris from a Norfolk Southern freight train lies scattered and burning along the tracks on Feb. 4, 2023, the day after it derailed in East Palestine, Ohio. A federal judge has signed off Tuesday, May 21, 2024, on the $600 million class action settlement over last year's disastrous Norfolk Southern derailment in eastern Ohio, but many people who live near East Palestine are still wondering how much they will end up with out of the deal.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday announced a settlement with Norfolk Southern Railway Company over the railroad’s discharge of toxic substances following the 2023 derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.

Under the agreement, Norfolk Southern will pay nearly $235 million to cover the EPA’s past and future clean-up costs for the contaminated air, water, and soil in and around where the train derailed.

In addition, the railroad company agreed to pay a $15 million civil penalty, $25 million for a 20-year community health program and will spend approximately $15 million to implement long-term monitoring of groundwater and surface water for a period of 10 years.

Norfolk Southern estimates that it will spend more than $1 billion to fix the contamination and other harms caused by the derailment and to improve rail safety and operations, according to the EPA.

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan said in a statement. 

“Today’s enforcement action delivers on this commitment, ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company, and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again," he added.

In April, Norfolk Southern agreed to pay $600 million to settle a class action lawsuit over the Feb. 3 derailment. The agreement would settle all class-action claims within a 20-mile radius of the derailment and personal injury claims within a 10-mile radius for residents who chose to participate.

While the company agreed to pay the $600 million as part of the settlement, it does not take responsibility for the derailment or admit to any wrongdoings.

"Individuals and businesses will be able to use compensation from the settlement in any manner they see fit to address potential adverse impacts from the derailment," the company said in a statement following the April settlement. "This could include healthcare needs and medical monitoring, property restoration and diminution, and compensation for any net business loss."

This agreement still requires approval from a federal judge for the Northern District of Ohio.

On Feb. 3, 2023, 38 train cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine, Ohio, near the Pennsylvania state line — including 11 carrying toxic chemicals. The derailed train cars sparked a massive fire, sending toxic smoke into the air above the town.

Nearly 2,000 of the town's 4,900 residents were forced to evacuate.

NPR's Joel Rose contributed to this report.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Jonathan Franklin
Jonathan Franklin is a digital reporter on the News desk covering general assignment and breaking national news.