NS Agrees to Pay $4M Penalty Over 2005 Graniteville Wreck

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

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.

On Jan. 6, 2005, a northbound Norfolk Southern Railway freight train encountered an “improperly lined” switch, and the train diverted from the main line onto an industry track. There, it struck an unoccupied, parked train.

Among the derailed cars were three tank cars containing chlorine, one of which was breached, releasing chlorine gas. The train engineer and eight other people died as a result of chlorine gas inhalation. Thousands more were evacuated because of spilled chemicals.

“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,” said Bob Dreher, Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

“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.”

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. The settlement also includes a supplemental environmental project 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.