Class Action Lawsuit Filed Over Norfolk Southern Toxic Train Derailment

The toxic train derailment lawsuit claims the accident may have contaminated nearby air, soil and water with cancer-causing chemicals.

Norfolk Southern faces a class action lawsuit over a toxic train derailment last week, which required nearly 2,000 Ohio residents to be evacuated.

On February 3, a Norfolk Southern freight train consisting of 150 freight cars derailed near East Palestine, Ohio. According to reports, 50 freight cars left the tracks late Friday evening; including several filled with vinyl chloride. Following fears that the burning, pressurized vinyl chloride tanker cars might explode, pressure was released from the tanks and the fires were put out.

There were no immediate injuries in the derailment or resulting fires and chemical releases, according to local and state officials. However, concerns immediately emerged about the long-term health risks faced by individuals in the area.

A class action complaint (PDF) was filed on Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio by Grayce Eisley and Jeffrey Zalick, both residents of East Palestine, where the train derailment occurred. The lawsuit seeks class action status for those nearby who were affected, or may be affected in the future, by the accident and resulting chemical releases.

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The Ohio train derailment led to the evacuation of about 1,900 nearby residents, according to state health officials. The evacuation area covered about a two-mile area around the crash site, and came after some of the freight cars caught on fire, and some pressure release devices on the tankers had stopped working, posing the risk of a chemical explosion which could have laced the area with vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals, on top of the general risk of fire and explosions if the pressurized chemical tanks exploded.

In addition, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued a press release on February 6, which warned that the vinyl chloride gas could cause death if inhaled and could also result in chemical burns on the skin and serious lung damage. The statement included evacuation details and contact numbers for displaced area residents to get assistance.

Vinyl chloride is used to make polyvinyl chloride, more commonly known as PVC. It is a hard plastic resin used in pipes, wires, packaging and cable coatings. While PVC itself has not been linked to an increased cancer risk, vinyl chloride, often a component of tobacco smoke, is linked to an increased risk of various liver cancers, lung cancers, brain cancer, lymphomas and leukemia.

“A number of the rail cars caught fire and continued to burn for many hours resulting in a toxic chemical fire that emitted dense clouds of noxious smoke fumes and vapors into the air forcing the evacuation of thousands of individuals residing near the area of the train derailment. It is believed that the release of toxic chemicals into the air may have also contaminated soil and ground water,” the lawsuit states. “As a result of the derailment and the release of toxic chemicals into the surrounding environment, Plaintiffs and members of the proposed Class have suffered a decrease in the market value of their properties.”

The lawsuit notes that not only were people forced from their homes suddenly, leaving many to sleep in government-provided shelters, numerous businesses were closed and the area around the evacuation zone was blocked off. The plaintiffs say their properties may be uninhabitable for an extended period of time.

The plaintiffs present claims of negligence, private nuisance, and trespass, and seeks for Norfolk Southern to pay for medical monitoring of the potential side effects of vinyl chloride exposure, including screening for liver cancer, and seeks damages for medical costs, wage loss, personal injuries, and loss of property value.

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