Web Date: April 29, 2008
U.S. Sues Norfolk Southern For Damages From Chemical Spill
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 (C&EN, Jan. 17, 2005, page 11).
In a lawsuit filed on April 24 in 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, five miles west of Aiken. Chlorine and diesel fuel contaminated waterways, killing fish and plant life.
The accident occurred on Jan. 6, 2005, when a 42-car Norfolk Southern freight train veered off a main line and slammed into a locomotive parked on a side track. Investigators later determined that the accident was caused by a track switch set in the wrong position.
Fourteen cars on the moving train derailed, including three chlorine tank cars, one of which ruptured and released a cloud of poisonous gas into the atmosphere. Nine people died, 250 were injured, and 5,400 Graniteville residents were evacuated. Since then, Norfolk Southern has settled two class-action lawsuits by victims who sought millions of dollars for personal injuries and property damage (C&EN, April 14, page 33).
DOJ's complaint alleges that Norfolk Southern, the nation's fourth-largest railroad, violated both the Clean Water Act and the federal Superfund law.
"Chlorine discharged from the breached tank car settled upon and was absorbed into Horse Creek, its tributaries, and their adjoining shorelines, injuring and killing fish and vegetation," the suit charges. It also asserts that Norfolk Southern failed to immediately notify federal authorities about the chemical spill.
DOJ says the railroad is facing fines of at least $130,000 for the chlorine release and similar penalties for two tank cars that ruptured and released diesel fuel into the creek.
Norfolk Southern said in a statement that it is confident that the government's case will not stand up in court. "DOJ has rejected efforts by Norfolk Southern to resolve the matter, and Norfolk Southern is disappointed the government is taking this action given its response following the derailment, its full cooperation in the investigation, and its payment of governmental response costs," the Norfolk, Va.-based company says.
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