Norfolk Southern agrees to $600M settlement in fiery Ohio derailment. Locals fear it’s not enough

In 2023, a black plume rises over East Palestine, Ohio, as a result of the controlled detonation of a portion of the derailed Norfolk Southern trains. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

Norfolk Southern has agreed to pay $600 million in a class-action lawsuit settlement for a fiery February 2023 train derailment in Ohio, but residents worry the money not only won’t go far enough to cover future health needs that could be tremendous but also won’t amount to much once divvied up.

“It’s not nowhere near my needs, let alone what the health effects are going to be five or 10 years down the road,” said Eric Cozza, who lived just three blocks from the derailment and had 47 family members living within a mile (1.61 kilometers).


More than three dozen of the freight train’s 149 cars derailed on the outskirts of East Palestine, a town of almost 5,000 residents near the Pennsylvania state line. Several cars spilled a cocktail of hazardous materials that caught fire. Three days later, officials, fearing an explosion, blew open five tankcars filled with vinyl chloride and burned the toxic chemical — sending thick, black plumes of smoke into the air. Some 1,500 to 2,000 residents were evacuated.

More than a year later residents still complain about respiratory problems and unexplained rashes and nosebleeds, but the greater fear is that people will develop cancer or other serious conditions because of the chemicals they were exposed to. Researchers have only begun to work on determining the lasting repercussions of the derailment.

Norfolk Southern said the agreement, if approved by the court, will resolve all class action claims within a 20-mile (32-kilometer) radius of the derailment and, for residents who choose to participate, personal injury claims within a 10-mile (16-kilometer) radius of the derailment.

The area includes East Palestine and people who evacuated, as well as several other larger towns.

The settlement, which doesn’t include or constitute any admission of liability, wrongdoing or fault, represents only a small slice of the $3 billion in revenue Norfolk Southern generated just in the first three months of this year. The railroad said that even after the settlement it still made a $213 million profit in the quarter.

East Palestine resident Krissy Ferguson called the settlement a “heart-wrenching day.”

“I just feel like we’ve been victimized over and over and over again,” she said. “We fought and we’re still fighting. And contamination is still flowing down the creeks. People are still sick. And I think people that had the power to fight took an easy way out.”

The company said Tuesday that individuals and businesses will be able to use compensation from the settlement in any manner they see fit.

The settlement is expected to be submitted for preliminary approval to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio this month. Payments could begin to arrive by the end of the year, subject to final court approval.

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