Ohio residents, Norfolk Southern strike a deal on crash evidence


Feb 27 (Reuters) - Ohio residents suing Norfolk Southern Corp (NSC.N) will get an extra day to inspect rail cars that spilled a toxic chemical during a train derailment this month before the company clears the crash site, according to a deal struck by the parties Monday.

Attorneys for the residents and Norfolk Southern told U.S. District Judge Benita Yalonda Pearson in Youngstown, Ohio, that the residents’ experts would have three days to inspect five rail cars from the train carrying vinyl chloride, a highly flammable and carcinogenic gas, instead of the originally planned two.

The derailment of the Norfolk Southern operated train in East Palestine on Feb. 3 ignited a fire and spewed a cloud of smoke over the town forcing thousands of residents to evacuate while railroad crews drained and burned off toxic chemicals.

Vinyl chloride, which is used in making plastic products, can cause dizziness, headaches and drowsiness when inhaled in the short term and a rare form of liver cancer after chronic exposure, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a letter sent on Thursday to attorneys for nearby residents who have filed over a dozen class action lawsuits claiming the fiery crash put their health and property at risk, Norfolk Southern had said it would begin removing and destroying the cars after March 1, and promised to allow those residents and their representatives two days to inspect the damage beforehand.

The residents filed motions on Friday asking Pearson to stop the company from destroying what they said was important evidence.

Attorneys for the company had told the judge at a hearing earlier on Monday that Norfolk Southern was on a tight schedule to clean up residue at the site before a March 10 deadline set by the EPA, and that giving the residents and their experts more time could result in delays to remediation of the crash site.

Pearson said remediation of the site was the most important goal, but had called for the parties to compromise.

Under the deal, which is subject to Pearson's approval, Norfolk Southern also agreed not to destroy four more cars that contained other toxic chemicals at the time of the crash, and instead make them available to the residents’ experts off-site if needed.

The EPA on Saturday announced it was temporarily pausing Norfolk Southern's shipment of material from the crash site, but promised those efforts would resume soon.

Reporting by Clark Mindock, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Josie Kao and Deepa Babington

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