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U.S. Sues Railroad For Environmental Damage

May 5, 2008 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 86, Issue 18

The Department of Justice (DOJ) is seeking thousands of dollars in penalties from Norfolk Southern Railway for environmental damage that resulted from a deadly 2005 train wreck and chemical spill in South Carolina. In a lawsuit filed on April 24 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, in Aiken, prosecutors claim Norfolk Southern violated two federal antipollution laws after the crash in the small mill town of Graniteville. Chlorine and diesel fuel contaminated waterways, killing fish and plant life. The accident occurred on Jan. 6, 2005, when a Norfolk Southern freight train veered off a main line and slammed into a locomotive parked on a side track. Fourteen cars on the moving train derailed, including three chlorine tank cars, one of which ruptured and released a cloud of poisonous gas. Nine people died and 250 were injured. Norfolk Southern has since settled two class-action lawsuits by victims who sought millions of dollars for personal injuries and property damage. DOJ alleges that the railroad violated both the Clean Water Act and the federal Superfund law. Norfolk Southern is facing fines of at least $130,000 for the chlorine release and similar penalties for two tank cars that ruptured and spilled diesel fuel.


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