Since returning to work after a Norfolk Southern train derailed laden with dangerous chemicals, Rick Feasel said he has had a hoarse voice and chest pain.
He said that his wife has sore throat and headache.
Feisel, 63, said he has worked in the area around East Palestine, Ohio, his entire adult life and operates two businesses there: a salvage yard and an auto shop.
He is part of a group of people who live or work near the derailment site who have filed a class action suit against Norfolk Southern. The February 3 incident resulted in a fire and chemical spread, forcing residents within an approximately 1-mile radius to evacuate. Several days later, the railroad company released and lit vinyl chloride — a flammable gas — that officials said would reduce the risk of an explosion.
Officials said residents can return home two days after that.
“No one can tell us what to do other than ‘it’s safe, go back there,'” Fiesel said, his voice cracking. “And the fish are dying and the animals are dying and I can barely talk and my chest hurts.”
His lawsuit is one of at least six class action suits that have already been filed against Norfolk Southern since the accident. For the most part, those suing the company allege they have lost income because of the evacuation, have been exposed to cancer-causing chemicals and no longer feel safe in their homes.
Norfolk Southern said it was “unable to comment directly on the litigation.” But in a public update Thursday, the company noted that in addition to its ongoing cleanup work, it was distributing more than $2 million in financial assistance to affected families and businesses to make up for the cost of evacuation, as well as $1 . million fund for the community.
Fezle and his fellow plaintiffs are requesting compensation from the company for lost business revenue and expenses incurred during their evacuation. They are also seeking punitive damages for exposure to the toxic chemicals.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies vinyl chloride as a carcinogen, and regular exposure may increase the risk of liver cancer or damage.
Another recently filed class-action, which does not include Fiesel, alleges that the rail company “discharged more cancer-causing vinyl chloride into the environment during one week than all industrial emitters combined.” did during the year”.
Lisa Soderjen, a plaintiff in that lawsuit, said in legal filings that her home was “surrounded by toxic black smoke” that irritated her lungs, eyes and skin. Sodergen lives in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania, about 5 miles from the derailment site, which is outside the evacuation zone.
“She lives with constant pulmonary irritation and fears for the long-term consequences for her health and water supply,” the suit alleges.
Along with another plaintiff, she is seeking damages for the increased risk of future disease and the cost of medical monitoring for early detection of the disease.
René Rocha, an attorney at Morgan & Morgan Lawyers, which represents Soderjen, said both plaintiffs in that case had ongoing health issues that arose after the derailment.
“When you talk to them, they get out of breath or start coughing,” he said.
As of Thursday, the EPA has assessed indoor air in more than 500 homes in conjunction with Norfolk Southern, and it hasn’t detected vinyl chloride above levels of concern in any of them. Based on the results of samples and tests conducted by the EPA, Norfolk Southern and other agencies, Governor Mike DeWine said Thursday that the municipal water was safe to consume.
In an open letter, Alan Shaw, CEO of Norfolk Southern, pledged to stay in the region “as long as it helps ensure your safety and help East Palestine recover and thrive.”
Feisel said his employees – including several of his family members – are still drinking bottled water, as they are not convinced that the water supply is free of contamination. The Ohio Department of Health is recommending that people who get their drinking water from private wells use bottled water until those wells are tested.
Fiesel also said he’s heard customers complaining about the smell in the air. The EPA said last week that byproducts of vinyl chloride can emit odors at levels below those considered dangerous.
Feisal said he was waiting for independent water and air quality tests, which are being conducted by his lawyers from next week, before making a decision on whether to continue operating his businesses in East Palestine. He said that until the derailment, he was planning to one day hand over his two businesses to his children and employees.
“If it’s bad and it’s going to kill us, then leave us,” he said. “There will be a lot of bankrupt people and a lot of people who will take a long time to start again, but at least we will be alive.”
They said Feisel also owned several rental properties in the city, at least four of which were in the evacuation zone.
“The first person who gets really sick, that town is going to be a ghost town,” he said. “My business will shut down, and I have worked all my life. I started the business when I was 19 and have worked for myself full time. And my property values are about to drop. I believe it cost me millions of dollars, train wreck.
On top of all that, Fiesel added, he fears that someday he or his family members might get cancer.
“I’m afraid we’re all going to be out here in five years, one way or another,” he said.