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Railroad Ordered to Cleanup Derailment/Hazmat Release Site and Pay Costs

Posted on 2/27/2023 by Roseanne Bottone and Roger Marks

Last week, US EPA ordered the railway company connected to the freight train derailment and hazmat release in East Palestine, OH to remove hazardous substances from the site and to pay for cleanup.  

CERCLA authorizes US EPA to identify parties responsible for a hazardous substance release and assure their cooperation in cleanup operations. CERCLA/Superfund imposes “strict liability” for persons involved in a hazardous substance release, whether or not that party was negligent or failed to comply with applicable regulations. 

Regulated chemicals released to the environment as a result of the February 3 derailment include vinyl chloride, butyl acrylate, isobutylene, Ethylene glycol and ethylhexyl acrylate. The "Findings of Fact" section of the order starts on page 4 and provides a blow-by-blow account of the incident and the first days of the emergency response effort. 

Under the terms of EPA’s CERCLA cleanup and liability order, the railroad must clean up every piece of debris and the contamination per the EPA’s exact specifications. Failure to meet the terms of the order—including provisions for cleanup activities, security planning, air and water monitoring, soil remediation, reporting and more—could result in civil penalties. 

The order also states that should the railroad fail to comply, EPA may seek damages in the amount of three times the cost incurred due to the railroad’s noncompliance. A Unilateral Administrative Order for Removal Actions like the one EPA issued to the railroad, described in section 106 of CERCLA, is one of EPA’s strongest tools for compelling parties to cleanup and fund remediation of hazardous substance contamination. 

Related posts: 

Update on E. Palestine Vinyl Chloride Incident (2/21) 
Hazmat Rail Cars Carrying Vinyl Chloride Derail in Ohio (2/6) 

Response, monitoring, and cleanup activities performed at the site since the incident on February 3 include:

  • Disassembly and removal of damaged rail cars,
  • Capture of oily substance and free liquids from the ground on site,
  • Excavation of contaminated soil and wreckage,
  • Removal of contaminated runoff from storm drains around the crash site, 
  • Diverting upstream water around the containment area,
  • Air monitoring at the site and in resident’s homes, and
  • An operation to ship hazardous substances off site for legal treatment and/or disposal.

There is more work to be done to cleanup after one of the largest hazardous materials transportation incidents and releases in recent memory, as the CERCLA order makes clear. 

Every Derailed Tank Car–Labeled  

Appendix B of EPA’s order is a photograph that shows a bird’s eye view of the de-railed tank cars, including the eleven hazmat tank cars. A label on each car indicates the contents, including for the five cars carrying vinyl chloride. 

East palestine ohio derailed hazmat rail tank cars labeled

Click the photo to enlarge, or view EPA’s full order here. 

The true and total impact of this incident on human health and the environment may not be evident for many years. Regular updates, along with details and documents concerning the cleanup effort and environmental impact of the derailment, is available on EPA's Site Profile page. 

Learn more about the OSHA HAZWOPER training requirements for site workers at contaminated cleanup sites designated under CERCLA/Superfund (and others).

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