Editor’s Note: Watch East Palestine, Ohio, residents pose questions to Norfolk Southern CEO Alan Shaw, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and EPA Administrator Michael Regan. “A CNN Town Hall: Toxic Train Disaster, Ohio Residents Speak Out” airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on CNN.
The head of the Environmental Protection Agency threatened expensive consequences if Norfolk Southern fails to fully clean up its toxic train wreck and pay for the fallout in East Palestine, Ohio.
The EPA’s new, legally binding order – set to take effect Thursday – “will ensure that Norfolk Southern pays for the mess that they’ve created,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told CNN on Wednesday.
For weeks, residents have reported a variety of health problems since the Norfolk Southern train carrying toxic chemicals derailed, spewing black clouds of smoke over the community of about 5,000 people.
To help prevent a deadly explosion of vinyl chloride, crews released the toxic chemical into a trench and burned it off.
While the EPA says testing shows the air and municipal water in East Palestine are safe, Regan said those with symptoms they believe might be linked to the wreck should “seek medical attention.”
Those residents should “ensure that the state and local health agencies understand those experiences, because as we force Norfolk Southern to take full accountability for what they’ve done, Norfolk Southern will pay for everything,” Regan said.
The EPA cited its authority under CERCLA – the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act.
On Wednesday, Regan summarized the EPA’s demands to Norfolk Southern:
“Number one: They will clean up every single piece of debris, all of the contamination, to EPA specifications and satisfaction,” Regan told CNN.
“Number two: They will pay for it – fully pay for it. At any moment, if we have to step in because they refuse to do anything, we will do the cleaning up ourselves. We can fine them up to $70,000 a day,” the EPA chief said.
“And when we recoup our total costs, we can charge them three times of the amount of the cost of the federal government. That is what the law provides.”
While a potential $70,000-a-day fine might sound steep, Norfolk Southern reported a record $4.8 billion operating profit last year.
The company said it’s already been working with the EPA and local crews on the ground since the derailment on February 3.
“From day one, I’ve made the commitment that Norfolk Southern is going to remediate the site,” Norfolk Southern President and CEO Alan Shaw told CNN on Tuesday.
“We’re going to do it through 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. And we’re going to make Norfolk Southern a safer railroad.”
Norfolk Southern has committed millions of dollars’ worth of financial assistance to East Palestine, including $3.4 million in direct financial assistance to families and a $1 million community assistance fund, the company has said.
The ongoing cleanup efforts include removing contaminated soil and water from under the railroad tracks at the derailment site. The tracks will be lifted to remove that soil, Ohio officials said.
Gov. Mike DeWine said 4,588 cubic yards of soil and 1.1 million gallons of contaminated water have been removed so far from East Palestine.