The Environmental Protection Agency ordered Norfolk Southern to clean up the site of its derailment on Tuesday, nearly three weeks after the company’s train leaked toxic chemicals in East Palestine, Ohio.
Federal regulators stepped in to ensure Norfolk Southern exhausts all available measures to sanitize the air and water contaminated during the Feb. 3 train wreckage — utilizing its power under the federal Superfund law.
“In no way, shape or form will Norfolk Southern get off the hook for the mess they created,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan vowed at a news conference in East Palestine, a town near the Pennsylvania border.
“I know this order cannot undo the nightmare that families in this town have been living with, but it will begin to deliver much-needed justice for the pain that Norfolk Southern has caused.”
Norfolk Southern will face a steep penalty — at three times the cost of damages — from the EPA if it fails to comply, forcing the agency to do the work itself.
The railroad company has already removed 4,600 yards of contaminated soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water, according to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. However, he said it failed to eliminate the contaminated soil beneath its train tracks before repairing them to run freight again.
Norfolk Southern must now pull up the tracks again to clear out the polluted soil, DeWine said.
Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro slammed the company over what he called its “failed management of this crisis.”
“The combination of Norfolk Southern’s corporate greed, incompetence and lack of concern for our residents is absolutely unacceptable to me,” Shapiro said at the news conference.
Federal regulators also ordered the railroad company to cover the bill of a new federal program assisting households and businesses affected by the noxious chemicals. The agency plans to release more details on the program in the near future, but said it will provide cleanup services for the impacted to “provide an additional layer of reassurance.”
Jeff Zalick, who lives with his 100-year-old mother just a few blocks from where the train derailed, said Norfolk Southern better pay to clean his home.
Follow The Post’s coverage of the Ohio train derailment
“They’re going to pay for it. There’s no ifs or buts,” he said.
Zalick hasn’t moved back into his house since he was evacuated when officials decided to start a controlled burn of the derailed train cars to avoid an uncontained explosion from the dangerous chemicals.
He said his walls needed to be thoroughly scrubbed and there’s a chemical smell still lingers — though he noted it’s not nearly as bad as a week ago. He wants authorities to install air purifiers to ensure the air quality is safe before allowing his elderly mother to return.
“I just want to make sure she’s safe,” he said. “She’s ready to come home. She cries every day.”
The EPA has already tested indoor air quality at 550 homes and has aircraft, mobile vans and stationary instruments monitoring outside air, according to Regan.
Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw said the company remains dedicated to the health of the community.
“From day one, I’ve made the commitment that Norfolk Southern is going to remediate the site, we’re going to do continuous long-term air and water monitoring, we’re going to help the residents of this community recover, and we’re going to invest in the long-term health of this community,” he told reporters near the derailment site. “And we’re going to make Norfolk Southern a safer railroad.”
The EPA’s new program marks the end of the “emergency” phase of the chemical clean-up and the start of long-term remediation efforts for residents of East Palestine, the agency said.
The new phase comes 18 days after more than three dozen freight cars derailed in East Palestine, near the Pennsylvania border. Eleven of the crashed cars were carrying hazardous materials leading authorities to evacuate the immediate area over concerns that the chemicals could cause a massive explosion.
Officials decided to intentionally release toxic vinyl chloride from five rail cars in a controlled burn instead of chancing a wild explosion.
However, nearby residents soon feared both immediate and lasting impacts on the air and water quality that could negatively affect their health.
DeWine sought to assure community members.
“We understand that it’s not just about today, it’s not just about two weeks from now,” he said. “People have long-term concerns, and we’re going to do everything we can to stay at this.”
The EPA can fine Norfolk Southern up to $70,000 a day if the work isn’t completed under the US’s Superfund law.
With Post wires