Norfolk Southern announces $600M East Palestine settlement

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Norfolk Southern reached a $600 million settlement in a class action lawsuit filed after a toxic train derailment near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border.

The deal, announced Tuesday, resolves all claims within a 20-mile radius of the accident in East Palestine, Ohio, that unfolded in February 2023. It is pending federal court approval.

The Center Square reached out to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s office for comment but did not receive a response before this publication. Both the governor’s administration and President Joe Biden have been openly critical, however, of Norfolk Southern’s response to the derailment and accused the railroad of prioritizing profits over safety.

Shapiro also negotiated a $7.4 million aid package with the company in the weeks after the crash. There were no injuries in the Feb. 3, 2023, incident, and little buzz about situation until Valentine’s Day.

It’s unclear what impact the news will have on morale in border communities. During a committee hearing last month, residents in Pennsylvania said the legislative response to “Ohio’s Chernobyl” over the last 14 months has been underwhelming, at best.

Darlington resident Lori O’Connell said she’s spoken to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw.

“It yields nothing,” she said. “He’s a puppet, he’s controlled by his Board of Directors. Nobody believes in the alphabet soup people because they don’t follow through with what they say they’re going to do anyhow – or you get the runaround.”

O’Connell, who lives 3 miles from the derailment site, couldn’t get any agency to test her soil. That is, until she forced her way into a meeting with Shapiro, whose office called the EPA to order a test on her property.

The results showed elevated levels of benzene, vinyl chloride and other chemicals. Since the derailment, her husband has also developed a rare form of breast cancer – though it’s not been proven to be a direct result.

“I’m angry at my local government, my county government, my state and my federal because the help that we have received in this township is short of nothing – nothing,” O’Connell said. “It’s inexcusable that, as taxpaying citizens in the state of Pennsylvania, that we should have to go through this.”

Federal investigators have since said Norfolk Southern’s decision to burn off toxic chemicals contained within the five derailed train cars was unnecessary.

Ohio legislators, during a March 6 hearing, accused the railroad of making the choice to “facilitate the rapid movement of freight,” leaving a poisoned town in its wake.

Norfolk Southern has maintained that it was the safest option, though it’s been cagey about the details. Along with Tuesday’s settlement announcement, the railroad said it invested more than $110 million into assistance programs in both states as part of its plan “to make it right.”

The National Transportation Safety Board plans to release its final report of the investigation in June.

Anthony Hennen contributed to this report.