Railroad Company to Pay $4 Million for Chlorine Spill

Norfolk Southern Railway Company has agreed to pay a $4 million penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and hazardous materials laws for a 2005 chlorine spill in Graniteville, S.C., the Justice Department and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Monday.

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 alleged 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. For the alleged Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) violation for failure to immediately notify the National Response Center of the chlorine release, Norfolk Southern will pay a penalty of $32,500, to be deposited in the Hazardous Substance Superfund.

The settlement addresses the Jan. 6, 2005, Norfolk Southern train derailment in Graniteville, S.C. 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 cloud of the gas settled over nearby Horse Creek and its tributaries and was absorbed into the water in sufficient quantity to kill hundreds of fish, the agencies said, adding that two of the engines involved in the crash leaked diesel fuel, a portion of which reached Horse Creek.

"This settlement reflects the Agency's commitment to ensure compliance with our nation's environmental laws," said Stan Meiburg, EPA acting regional administrator in Atlanta. "Companies have a responsibility to workers, emergency responders, and the community to make sure a serious accident doesn't become a senseless tragedy."

Bob Dreher, principal deputy assistant attorney general for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division, added, "This agreement includes a significant civil penalty for the catastrophic chlorine spill, which resulted in loss of human life and damage to the environment, and ensures that those responsible are held accountable under the law."

Under the terms of the agreement, Norfolk Southern will 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, EPA noted. 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. The chemical 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, filed March 8 in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court review and approval. A copy of the consent decree is available on the DOJ's Web site at www.justice.gov/enrd/Consent_Decrees.html.

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