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Norfolk Southern to pay $600 million to settle East Palestine derailment lawsuit

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

You may remember that thick, black plume of smoke rising above the town of East Palestine, Ohio, last year after 38 train cars derailed. The people who live there sure can't forget it. People had to evacuate. Some later reported health problems. And many still have concerns about the cleanup of hazardous chemicals. Now, the railroad company, Norfolk Southern, has agreed to a $600 million settlement. Misti Allison still lives about a mile away, and we've been checking in with her from time to time to hear how things are going. She even ran unsuccessfully for mayor of East Palestine last year because of the disaster. And she's with us now once again. Good morning, Misti.

MISTI ALLISON: Good morning. Thank you for having me this morning.

MARTIN: Well, thanks for coming again. We want to mention that the settlement still needs court approval. It doesn't include an admission of wrongdoing, liability or fault. The plaintiff's lawyer said they think it's, quote, "a fair, reasonable and adequate result for the community." What do you think?

ALLISON: So I am glad to see there's potential forward progress regarding the aftermath of the East Palestine train derailment. But in my opinion, so much more needs to be accomplished. And I do have a lot of questions and concerns about the announcement that was made yesterday. And my gut reaction is that $600 million for this class-action lawsuit settlement is just not enough.

MARTIN: It's not enough. Well, they say that - looks like we asked Norfolk Southern for comment, and they pointed us to a press release. The company says it's made investment in the town's drinking water, economy and even a program to compensate residents for any loss in home value. Have you seen that? Have you seen any evidence of that?

ALLISON: Yes, absolutely. That is true. And I am the type of person that will give credit where credit is due. And so Norfolk Southern has been an active staple in the community since the train derailment, and all of that is going on. From the very beginning, Norfolk Southern has said that they are going to make it right.

But my response to that is, who gets to determine the litmus test in what is right in a situation like this? And my stance on this has always been that - I'm a firm believer that if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. And, you know, many people say that the East Palestine, Ohio train derailment and what happened in our community is really the largest chemical disaster in United States history. And the long-term health effects of these chemicals are going to have on residents, like my family, not to mention the first responders who inhaled that toxic smoke for hours without knowing the deadly chemicals they were breathing - it is still widely unknown. So instead of throwing money at the issue, I am really focused on the long-term health care monitoring and the health care coverage, and that has still yet to be addressed.

MARTIN: Well, Norfolk Southern says the money can be used as recipients see fit. I guess that could cover health care. What - I don't know. What are they telling you? 'Cause I know that you and other families who are affected by this have to make a decision about whether you participate or not. I'm not sure what was said to people who live in the area. Is that how you're hearing it?

ALLISON: That is exactly how I am hearing it as well. So, you know, thousands have joined the class-action lawsuit from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia 'cause we're right on that tri-state border. So when all that money is divided up and paid out, the individuals won't even receive a fraction of what Norfolk Southern paid its executives in bonuses in the year following the derailment. So if the proposed $600 million settlement is distributed to all of those families after the legal teams are paid out, it's really estimated that each person will receive around $6,000.

And so if, you know, there were some long-term health care needs, like, say, like, someone got cancer, it's really expensive to go through a cancer treatment. And so that seems like that just wouldn't be enough. So the community still needs long-term health care that's connected to the academic researchers like Dr. Erin Haynes from the University of Kentucky.

MARTIN: OK.

ALLISON: And so we just really need a lot more help.

MARTIN: That is Misti Allison. She still lives near - in East Palestine, Ohio. Misti, thanks so much for talking to us again and keep in touch.

ALLISON: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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