Court Battles

Pennsylvania school district files lawsuit against Norfolk Southern over East Palestine train crash

A large plume of smoke rises over East Palestine, Ohio, after a controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

A Pennsylvania school district is suing Norfolk Southern over the impacts of the East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment that led to the release of toxic chemicals and forced thousands to evacuate for days. 

The lawsuit from Blackhawk School District in Beaver County, located on Pennsylvania’s western border with Ohio, is the latest of several facing Norfolk Southern, which operated the train that derailed. East Palestine residents filed a class action suit last month and the Ohio state government filed a suit earlier this month against the train company. 

The complaint from the school district alleges that the fires that resulted from the crash and the “plumes” of dangerous chemicals that came from a controlled release of the materials contaminated the school district’s lands and buildings, which were occupied by its students and staff members. 

The school district is located within a 15-mile radius of where the derailment occurred, according to the lawsuit. 

More than 10 of the cars on the train were carrying toxic chemicals, including vinyl chloride, a highly explosive, cancer-causing substance used to make plastic products. Officials decided to intentionally release vinyl chloride gas in a controlled manner to prevent a potential explosion that would have been more dangerous to the area. 

But the district argues that the decision to release the materials did not take the surrounding area into consideration and put those nearby at risk. 

“The release of the toxic, hazardous, and dangerous chemicals was without regard to Blackhawk School District, its students and staff,” the complaint states. “Instead, the toxic fires and deadly plumes dumped a lethal cocktail on Plaintiff’s buildings, property, soil, and water supplies where deposits of the toxic materials have been found.” 

The district said the release forced its students and staff to need to evacuate their homes for a substantial amount of time, caused them to suffer medical problems like rashes and respiratory issues, increased the risk of future disease for students and staff and led to a need for future monitoring of the property, soil and water for the school. 

The district is suing the train company for a variety of charges including negligence, public nuisance, future health monitoring and trespass. The district requested a jury trial for the case. 

Norfolk Southern has received widespread criticism in the aftermath of the derailment. The rail industry as a whole has also been scrutinized over its push for loosening safety regulations that some say could have played a role in preventing the derailment. 

Norfolk Southern declined to comment on the case, saying it cannot comment on litigation.

Updated: March 28 at 2:13 p.m.

Tags East Palestine train derailment Lawsuit Norfolk Southern train derailment

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