Ohio Train Derailment Releases Toxic Chemicals.

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Ohio Train Derailment Lawsuit

Noxious Cloud and Water Contamination Spread across State Borders.

Right away people in East Palestine, Ohio, started getting sick after 38 rail cars from a Norfolk Southern freight train derailed on Feb. 3, 2023, at least 11 of them releasing low-level hazardous chemicals into the atmosphere, sparking 100-foot fires and prompting a five-day evacuation of hundreds of town residents near the Ohio and Pennsylvania borders. Wildlife and aquatic life are also reported sick or dead. If you or a loved one is affected, you may have legal options. Inquire here.

Nobody Seems Sure of Anything.

The Washington Post reported Feb. 14, 2023, that the derailment released more hazardous substances than first reported.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s office first told residents the town’s water supply was safe to drink, but the next day bottled water was passed out with revised guidance to wait until testing confirmed whether the local water supply was safe. The sudden reversal added distrust to fear mounting among residents, some of whom still haven’t returned since the evacuation was lifted. The next day, DeWine’s office flipped again and said the city water was safe to drink.

But on Feb. 16, 2023, the Cleveland Courier reported the chemicals that spilled into the Ohio River after the derailment in East Palestine were forecasted to reach Kentucky in the next day or so, based on estimates from water officials in the region. Massachusetts is also on the alert.

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What Happened?

At least 11 rail cars containing toxic chemicals went off the track in eastern Ohio on Feb. 3, 2023 near the Pennsylvania border, spewing an array of hazardous substances into the atmosphere, including vinyl chloride, a volatile organic compound (VOC) and carcinogen. Vinyl chloride becomes a gas at room temperature and can convert to formaldehyde when exposed to the sun; it can also break down into hydrogen chloride and phosgene, a chemical weapon used as a choking agent during World War I, according to the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and CDC (U.S. Centers for Disease Control).

Long-term vinyl chloride exposure is associated with an increased risk of a rare form of liver cancer (hepatic angiosarcoma), as well as primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma), brain and lung cancers and leukemia.

Residents of East Palestine immediately began reporting concerns over rashes, burning eyes, throats and chests, nausea, headaches, dizziness, and drowsiness. Low-level vinyl chloride exposure can cause these symptoms, but certain symptoms could also be attributed to other chemicals released.

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Even if you haven’t experienced specific problems yet, it is important to protect your legal rights now in case problems develop down the road.

Angry Citizens at the Breaking Point.

At a packed town hall meeting on Feb. 15 at East Palestine’s high school gym, residents hurled insults at the EPA and Norfolk Southern Corporation, at Ohio Gov. Andy DeWine’s office, and other agencies whose guidance has continued flip-flopping.

Most notably, Norfolk Southern officials did not attend the meeting, citing last-minute concern for their employees’ safety. The packed house grew more furious when they learned:

“We have become increasingly concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees and members of the community around this event stemming from the increasing likelihood of the participation of outside parties.”

If the city water was safe, people yelled, then why were 3,500 fish floating belly-up in streams and tributaries 7.5 miles away? And why were city officials flooded with reports of sick and dead animals – frogs, chickens, horses and dogs – from contamination. If the air was safe to breathe, why was the town still shrouded in a cloud of chemical stench?

Dan Tierney, a spokesman for DeWine had earlier told the Washington Post that “no doctor who has seen patients has verified the chemical release as cause for people’s symptoms.” Though not a 100 percent,” he said, “it is extremely unlikely that people’s symptoms are related to the chemicals and “there’s usually another explanation for those symptoms” [like seasonal colds or flu].

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A Case for Justice is honored to work on this awareness initiative with a prestigious team of national law firms. Over the past several decades these firms have brought about significant change for both individuals and communities harmed by corporate misconduct. Examples include the fight against Big Tobacco, game-changing legal action against Opioid manufacturers, assistance for the victims of the BP Oil Spill, litigation against Norfolk Corporation in the Graniteville, SC train crash, and asbestos litigation in Ohio.

We stand firm in our mission to continue helping individuals take on massive corporations and hold them liable for negligence.

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Apocalypse Now.

Compared to Chernobyl by the New York Times as apocalyptic, the wreck was initially overshadowed by media focus on the Chinese “spy” balloon. Now that it’s become front page news, the story has many pundits speculating that the wreck was a consequence of corporate corner-cutting, particularly the braking systems.

FEMA, however, says the accident does not qualify for assistance, citing the absence of damage, among other things. On Feb. 16, Gov. DeWine announced he was seeking federal help for healthcare. Two days earlier, he’d stated that he saw no cause for such action.

But the town’s livelihood likely suffered instantly from diminished (though undamaged) property values, even as government agencies tried to downplay the severity of immediate and future risks.

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Lawsuits and Little Trust.

The Post on Feb. 15 reported several class-action lawsuits filed by residents against the Norfolk Southern demanding money and medical monitoring for residents. Another lawsuit filed the same day alleged Norfolk Southern’s efforts to clean up the disaster “instead worsened the situation” by “blasting the town with chemicals.” Norfolk Southern has promised a comprehensive cleanup, but the EPA-appointed crew has so far omitted soil investigation, a key element of any comprehensive environmental cleanup. Other crews have been searching homes for signs of vinyl chloride contamination; but after 459 residences, they say they’ve detected nothing worrisome.

Initial lawsuits claim Norfolk Southern ignored standard requirements of safety maintenance and demand that the company fund court-supervised medical screenings for severe sickness developing from exposure to the list of chemicals: ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, ethylhexyl acrylate, isobutylene and butyl acrylate.

The train’s axel was documented on video sparking for at least 20 miles before the derailment in East Palestine. Julia Rock (The Lever) noted that most of the nation’s trains still operate with braking systems dating back to the Civil War. “There is a lag time between an emergency happening, the engineer pulling the brake, and the train coming to a stop,” she wrote.

Burning questions remain:

  1. How much contamination will result in the short and long runs?

  2. How will humans and wildlife fare short-term and long-term?

  3. How will this environmental cataclysm historically compare to other open-ended tragedies like Camp Lejeune and Three-Mile Island?

  4. Are we getting all the information?

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Disaster Timeline:


Day 1 (Feb. 3)

The accident occurred at 8:55 pm.

Day 2 (Feb. 4)

An evacuation of 1,500-2,000 residents was ordered.

Day 6 (Feb. 8)

Crews carried out a controlled chemical burn authorized by government officials to stop the fires before they reached flammable vinyl chloride in unstable cars nearby and risked detonating a massive explosion of iron shrapnel and more toxic chemicals.

Day 10 (Feb. 12)

Officials lifted the evacuation, assuring residents it was safe to go back to their homes.

Day 11 (Feb. 13)

Video showed a malfunctioning wheel bearing shortly before the crash, raising more questions of accountability. Executing the chemical burn, however, sent plumes of black smoke high in the air over a village that still wreaks of “an overwhelming chemical smell” – like burning tires mixed with chlorine, glue and nail polish – nearly two weeks later.

Day 13 (Feb. 15)

The rail company announced Feb. 15 it was creating a $1.7 million charity fund to reimburse residents who had to evacuate, stating it was “committed to the community today and in the future” (CNN). Residents said they were wary of accepting company handouts for fear they may forfeit their right to seek fairer legal compensation in the future.

Day 14 (Feb. 16)

Thursday, Feb. 16, the head of the EPA, Michael Regan, traveled to East Palestine promising aid, but faced citizens outraged at what they perceive as a delayed response. Residents appear equally frustrated by the promise of emergency federal health aid.

Day 15 (Feb. 17)

Many East Palestine residents said they never want to go home.
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