EAST PALESTINE, Ohio — Families returning to East Palestine following a fire train derailment tell News 5 they’re worried about the long-term effects the crash and release of hazardous materials will have on their property and their health.
Norfolk Southern is offering an “inconvenience fee” to those who left town during a mandatory evacuation, but some attorneys are wary of how the reimbursement could affect future claims.
“I’ve never been in a situation before where someone who’s potentially going to pay out big money is paying out small money at the front end of a case. And to use a baseball analogy—before the players are even out of the dugout,” said Michael O’Shea, an attorney with Lipson O’Shea Legal Group.
So far, the law firm has met with 20-30 prospective clients who live or work near the derailment site. O’Shea expects more to reach out as concerns mount over the exposure to hazardous materials.
“I’ve been holding myself together, but it’s really hitting me. I’m scared to death of what I’ve breathed,” said Ted Murphy in a phone call Friday.
Wednesday, Murphy walked News 5 through his home shortly after evacuation orders were lifted. He elected not to sleep there that night. The house sits 500 feet from where a Norfolk Southern train derailleured Feb. 3.
READ MORE: ‘It’s safe:’ residents of East Palestine are allowed to return home
Ten of the train’s 50 cars contained a toxic, highly flammable material called vinyl chloride. Monday, the crew slowly burned the chemical from five cars to prevent a bigger disaster. The state required everyone to leave town until the air quality reached a safe level.
READ MORE: Crews perform controlled chemical release at derailment site
Norfolk Southern is asking residents to fill out an itemized claim worksheet for the “inconvenience fee”, detailing the expenses they incurred so they can be reimbursed.
O’Shea is concerned the reimbursement would waive residents’ rights to make future claims. He’s encouraging clients and others to fill out an accompanying form his firm designed which would clarify that receiving an “inconvenience fee” couldn’t be construed as a waiver in the future.
“The intent is to protect these folks, whether they’re our clients or not, from any arguments now or in the immediate future or the distant future about what taking this money up front means,” O’Shea said.
Norfolk Southern provided News 5 with the following statement:
Norfolk Southern continues to provide reimbursement for expenses incurred by residents affected by the evacuation, in addition to compensation for inconvenience during the evacuation, through our Family Assistance Center. Acceptance of these reimbursement and/or inconvenience compensation is not a settlement of any future claim.
It’s important to note that Norfolk Southern is not going door-to-door offering this compensation, and residents are encouraged to visit the Family Assistance Center or residents who are homebound can call the hotline at (800) 230-7049 to schedule an appointment for an NS representative to come to them. We are proactively reaching out to some local businesses, but we are not going door-to-door.
Lastly, Norfolk Southern is offering in-home air monitoring and other services free-of-charge through its Family Assistance Center and Operation Return Home in partnership with local and federal agencies. Residents within the evacuation zone requesting services for returning to their home should contact 330-849-3919 to schedule an appointment. Norfolk Southern and local officials are informing residents that providers offering services outside of the Norfolk Southern Family Assistance Center and this hotline are not affiliated with the Operation Return Home program.
O’Shea expects legal claims to grow in the coming days, weeks and months. So far, many are concerned about the effects the hazardous materials will have on their properties and their health. He said East Palestine farmers are anticipating trouble selling their crops. At least one home owner trying to sell her house was told it is currently unmarketable.
Murphy expects a lot in the small, working class community will accept the reimbursement of money. He and others worry about returning to their homes near the derailment site, drinking well water and breathing the air in the area this week will create lasting health implications.
“Am I going to get cancer from it, from inhaling something that I don’t know (what) it is and they won’t tell you? I know I breathed in something,” Murphy said.
Norfolk Southern plans to offer in-home air monitoring. The company said residents with questions or those who would like to request a reimbursement can receive information at its Family Assistance Center. Residents who are homebound can call the hotline at (800) 230-7049 to request a home visit from a Norfolk Southern representative.
RELATED: Unknown person in East Palestine ‘promising money’ to residents for personal information
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