In the two weeks since a Norfolk Southern train carrying hazardous materials derailed in East Palestine, Ohio, the largest rail shipper of auto products and metals in North America says it has already spent millions of dollars responding to the disaster, and residents of the small town confirm the carrier is handing out checks for the ongoing "inconvenience."
Norfolk Southern told FOX News Friday that since the Feb. 3 accident — which caused toxic substances including vinyl chloride and butyl acrylate to spill onto the ground and sent a plume of smoke into the air — the company has paid out more than $2.2 million in direct financial assistance to more than 1,530 families and a number of businesses to cover costs related to the evacuation of the area.
That number includes reimbursements and cash advancements for lodging, travel, food, clothes, and other related items for residents whose lives have been upended due to the incident.
Local residents say the freight carrier is offering anyone with the East Palestine zip code of 44413 a $1,000 check, referring to the payments as an "inconvenience fee" which will not bar residents from bringing suit against the railway company in the future.
In addition to the direct payouts, Norfolk Southern says it has made progress in remediation efforts. The company says it has removed some 3,150 cubic yards of contaminated soil from the incident area near the Ohio-Pennsylvania border as of Friday, along with 942,000 gallons of contaminants and contaminated liquid from the immediate site.
Norfolk Southern also says that so far, it has completed nearly 510 in-home air tests at houses near the disaster site in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governmental agencies. The company reports that the in-home monitoring has not detected substances related to the incident and does not indicate health risks.
Norfolk Southern has been criticized by East Palestine residents for its handling of the derailment after the railroad conducted a controlled release of chemicals to avert a possible explosion, which caused a discharge of toxic fumes into the air.
Railroad company representatives declined to appear at a town hall in the community earlier this week, saying in a statement that the firm was "concerned about the growing physical threat to our employees."
The next day, Norfolk Southern president and CEO Alan Shaw shared an open letter to the community, vowing that the company will "help make things right" and "will not walk away."
Shaw promised Norfolk Southern would help rectify the situation, writing, "[W]e are here and will stay here for as long as it takes to ensure your safety and to help East Palestine recover and thrive."
Norfolk Southern shares have fallen about 10% since the incident.
FOX Business' Eric Revell and Joe Toppe contributed to this report.