A train carrying over 150 cars, measuring 9,300 feet in length, and weighing 18,000 tons met a tragic fate as it was filled with hazardous chemicals that spilled and needed to be addressed. It has been almost two weeks since the derailment occurred in eastern Ohio, causing the evacuation of numerous residents, and Norfolk Southern is now facing a multitude of lawsuits.
Last week, the law firm Morgan & Morgan filed a class-action lawsuit in a federal court in Ohio, representing two women residing in East Palestine. The town, with a population of around 4,700 people, is located near the Pennsylvania border and approximately 50 miles west of Pittsburgh, according to CBS News.
“Norfolk Southern discharged more cancer-causing Vinyl Chloride into the environment in the course of a week than all industrial emitters combined did in the course of a year,” the suit alleges, which noted further that the rail company chose to burn the vinyl chloride, which then turned it into a highly toxic gas, rather than disposing of it safely. It's not clear why the Environmental Protection Agency would have ever approved that.
“From chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting to a substance responsible for the majority of chemical warfare deaths during World War I, the people of East Palestine and the surrounding communities are facing an unprecedented array of threats to their health,” Morgan & Morgan attorneys said in a statement, according to Republic Brief.
CBS News noted further that the recently filed class-action lawsuit claims that the negligence of the company has led to the potential exposure of hazardous chemicals for "thousands of residents" living in rural eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Additionally, at least six other lawsuits have been filed against the company, demanding payment for damages to property, economic losses suffered by business owners, and exposure to toxic chemicals.
The size and structure of the train operated by Norfolk Southern are being scrutinized for their potential contribution to the derailment. Some individuals claim that the train's immense size and weight could be responsible for the accident.
As per CBS News, Norfolk Southern workers have reportedly acknowledged that they were concerned about the train's size before the incident and that this concern may have contributed to both the derailment and an earlier failure that occurred after the train left Illinois on February 1. One worker expressed that "it's highly probable the impacts of the derailment would have been avoided" if the train had not been so long, adding that "we shouldn't be running trains that are 150 car lengths long." Two employees who spoke with Motherboard suggested that the train could pose a safety hazard.
The former director of the Federal Railroad Administration, Sarah Feinberg, agrees that the size of the train would have been a concern, per WayneDupree.com:
“I was not satisfied with the lengths of the trains, and they were 80 or 90 cars long,” she says of her tenure at the FRA. The derailed one had 151 cars. Even while adding more cars might make trains more efficient overall for railroad firms, it takes more time for staff to examine such a train. Shorter inspection times in the name of such efficiency, according to Jared Cassity, national legislative director for one of the Norfolk Southern workers unions, made it likely that the car that derailed earlier this month hadn’t been examined “in some time.”
The railroad company has said that the train's length was known, managed, and was expected to be stable. The company claims that the weight distribution of the train was consistent throughout, and that a locomotive in the middle of the train assisted in managing the train's dynamic forces and minimizing the occurrence of broken knuckles. A statement from Norfolk Southern to WKBN mentioned that some of the allegations made about the train's size are "simply false," according to Republic Brief.