Posted by: Lawyer Sanders | March 16, 2010

Kentucky environmental attorney Sanders says deadly release of chlorine gas and diesel fuel costs N&S Railroad $4 million in civil penalties to EPA, and does not relieve N&S of civil liability arising from poisonous gas cloud that killed 9.

Norfolk Southern Railway Company will pay a $4 million penalty to resolve violations of the Clean Water Act (CWA) and hazardous materials laws related to a 2005 chlorine spill in Graniteville, S.C.  Under the settlement filed in federal court in Columbia, S.C., Norfolk Southern will be required to pay a civil penalty of $3,967,500 for the alleged CWA violations, to be deposited in the federal Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The CWA violations, included in an amended complaint filed in March 2009, are for the discharge of tons of chlorine, a hazardous substance, from a derailed train tank car and thousands of gallons of diesel fuel from ruptured locomotive engine fuel tanks. 

The railroad also failed to immediately notify the National Response Center of the chlorine release.  As a result of this CERCLA reporting violation, Norfolk Southern will pay a penalty of $32,500, to be deposited in the Hazardous Substance Superfund.

The settlement addresses the January 6, 2005 Norfolk Southern train derailment in Graniteville, South Carolina. During the derailment, one of the train’s tank cars was punctured and released chlorine gas.

Nine people died as a result of chlorine exposure and hundreds of people sought medical care due to respiratory distress. The incident resulted in the evacuation of more than 5,000 people living and working within a 1-mile radius of the release area.

A hinking huge cloud of deadly chlorine gas settled over nearby Horse Creek and its tributaries and was absorbed into the water in sufficient quantity to kill hundreds of fish. Two of the engines involved in the crash leaked diesel fuel, a portion of which reached Horse Creek. 

Norfolk Southern will also provide incident command system training to environmental and transportation personnel; stock nearby Langley Pond with at least 3,000 fish to replace fish killed by the chlorine spill; and post the telephone number for the National Response Center to facilitate spill reporting.

Further, the settlement includes a supplemental environmental project (SEP) valued at $100,000 to plant vegetation along the banks of Horse Creek to decrease erosion and sedimentation, thereby improving water quality in Horse Creek.

Chlorine is defined as a “hazardous substance” under CERCLA and CWA, and can cause significant harm to human health and the environment. In humans, chlorine corrodes the respiratory tract and can cause severe eye and skin burns, lung collapse and death.

Chlorine is also toxic to marine life and vegetation. Chlorine reacts with water to form a strongly oxidizing solution that can damage the gills of fish and other organisms, inhibiting their ability to absorb oxygen.

The consent decree is lodge in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina and is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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