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Norfolk Southern Fined $15M in Federal Settlement Over East Palestine Train Derailment

East Palestine OH train derailment (NTSB photo)

In a move that could prove controversial, the federal government agreed to a $15 million fine for Norfolk Southern over the February, 2023 train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, and the railroad promised to pay more than $300 million top improve safety and address community health concerns.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Justice Department announced the agreement on Thursday morning. Norfolk Southern will reimburse the EPA an additional $57 million in response costs and establish a $25 million health care fund to pay for 20 years of medical exams in the community.

Earlier this week, a federal judge signed off on the railroad’s $600 million class action settlement with residents.

“From day one, it was important for Norfolk Southern to make things right for the residents of East Palestine and the surrounding areas,” said Alan H. Shaw, president and CEO of Norfolk Southern. “We are pleased we were able to reach a timely resolution of these investigations that recognizes our comprehensive response to the community’s needs and our mission to be the gold standard of safety in the rail industry. We will continue keeping our promises and are invested in the community’s future for the long-haul.”

Together with other response costs and rail safety enhancements, Norfolk Southern estimates that it will spend more than $1 billion to address the contamination and other harms caused by the East Palestine derailment and improve rail safety and operations.

“No community should have to experience the trauma inflicted upon the residents of East Palestine,” said EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan. “That’s why President Biden pledged from the beginning that his Administration would stand with the community every step of the way. Today’s enforcement action delivers on this commitment, ensures the cleanup is paid for by the company, and helps prevent another disaster like this from happening again. Because of this settlement, residents and first responders will have greater access to health services, trains will be safer and waterways will be cleaner.”

Under the settlement, Norfolk Southern has agreed to:

  • Spend an estimated $235 million for all past and future costs, so that cleanup efforts can continue and the company, rather than taxpayers, covers the cost.
  • Pay a $15 million civil penalty to resolve the alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.
  • Pay $25 million for a 20-year community health program that includes medical monitoring for qualified individuals and mental health services for individuals residing in affected counties – including those in Pennsylvania – as well as first responders who worked at the site, and a community facilitation plan to assist community members in using the benefits of the program.
  • Spend approximately $15 million to implement long-term monitoring of groundwater and surface water for a period of 10 years.
  • Pay $15 million for a private drinking water monitoring fund that will continue the existing private drinking water well monitoring program for 10 years.
  • Implement a “waterways remediation plan,” with an estimated budget of $6 million, for projects in Leslie Run and Sulphur Run that will prioritize addressing historical pollution, reducing non-point source pollution through infrastructure upgrades and stormwater management projects, and restoring aquatic and riparian habitat.
  • Pay $175,000 for natural resource damages, to be used by the United States to restore, rehabilitate, replace, or acquire the equivalent of the natural resources injured as a result of the derailment.


The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio must approve the settlement before it can go into effect.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted that “Our department was proud to work with the DOJ & EPA to ensure this settlement enhanced rail safety.”

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 tank cars 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.

Neither the Environmental Protection Agency, which is overseeing the cleanup, nor any other government entity was a defendant, but there has been significant confusion about whether possible future lawsuits against them could be affected because broad language in the fine print of the agreement mentions that “governmental agencies, entities, and authorities, whether federal, state, county, or local, their employees, officers, agents, members, and volunteers” are among the released parties.

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