June 7, 2024 

Serious Concerns Arise over Norfolk Southern’s Settlement Agreement 

EAST PALESTINE, Ohio – Norfolk Southern has been fined $15 million by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Justice Department (DOJ) for violating the Clean Water Act in the wake of its disastrous 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. The company also agreed to a $500 million settlement to ameliorate damage it caused to the community. However, while this civil penalty is the largest permitted under the Clean Water Act, Norfolk Southern’s settlement agreement with the federal government raises serious red flags to Government Accountability Project and many residents of East Palestine. 

The Norfolk Southern settlement does not include criminal charges, which would relieve them of criminal penalties for preventable environmental and public health damages. Government Accountability Project believes this is not warranted, reasonable, or acceptable without public information about whether there has been a criminal investigation exonerating the company from criminal liability. In addition, the settlement with the EPA and DOJ only addresses health exams and not potential long-term health problems that might develop. Our investigation has shown that many residents are dealing with long-term health problems and the concern of developing cancer over time. The Norfolk Southern settlement would leave residents vulnerable and without resources as we are concerned about the potential long-term health needs generated by exposure to dioxin and other chemicals spilled. 

Government Accountability Project has also observed the implementation of similar “resolutions” in the past—each of which failed spectacularly. For example, in the wake of British Petroleum’s (BP) 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, the company tried to buy their way out of responsibilities to the community. Millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and the toxic cleanup efforts further contaminated the surrounding area and sickened hundreds of cleanup workers and volunteers, as evidenced by our clients who have come forward to share shocking stories of medical neglect by BP. Despite BP being required to pay damages, their “medical care” was a smoke screen to ignore the deeper issues they caused. With our ongoing investigation into the federal government’s mishandling of the disaster in East Palestine and the EPA’s refusal to admit to the health and environmental impacts of their mismanagement, we question whether Norfolk Southern is fully being held accountable for the disaster. The Norfolk Southern settlement will set a precedent for future accountability for similar disasters. 

“Until corporations face criminal penalties for the environmental disasters they cause, there is little incentive for them to improve their practices,” said Lesley Pacey, Government Accountability Project’s Environmental Investigator. 

“Additionally, the promise in the settlement of health checkups for residents in East Palestine will do little to help the thousands of impacted residents who have been chronically exposed to dioxins and more than 100 other toxic chemicals. The program is eerily reminiscent of BP’s failed clinics, which left Gulf Coast residents without the medical care they needed for chemically induced health issues. Residents seeking treatment for ailments related to oil and chemical dispersant exposure were turned away. To say we are skeptical of the proposed health program would be a vast understatement.” 

Contact: Andrew Harman, Government Accountability Project Communications Director      

Email:[email protected]      

Government Accountability Project 

Founded in 1977, Government Accountability Project is the leading international whistleblower protection organization. Through litigating whistleblower cases, publicizing concerns and developing legal reforms, Government Accountability Project’s mission is to protect the public interest by promoting government, corporate, and international organization accountability. Government Accountability Project is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C.