(Adds CSX comment in paragraph 6)
By Clark Mindock
Nov 29 (Reuters) - A group of Kentucky residents on Wednesday sued CSX, saying the railroad operator could have prevented a train derailment that spilled molten sulfur in remote eastern Kentucky on the eve of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday.
The proposed class action lawsuit filed in Kentucky federal court claimed CSX's negligence, recklessness and failure to follow federal train regulations were to blame for the Nov. 22 crash, which involved 16 cars, including two carrying molten sulfur that spilled some of their load near Livingston, a town of approximately 200 people.
The lawsuit said the derailment could have been avoided had CSX properly maintained equipment, including by more closely monitoring train wheel bearings the company has said overheated and caused the crash.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs, which could include residents near the crash site and others in the area, said the chemical spill and fire released "dangerous plumes of smoke" and caused irritations to people's throats, eyes, lungs, mouths and lips.
The lawsuit seeks damages for out-of-pocket expenses, emotional distress, loss of property value, and increased risks of future illness stemming from the crash.
A CSX spokesperson said in a statement that the company prides itself on being a safe railroad that responds quickly and safely when "rare" incidents like the derailment occur. The company is reviewing the lawsuit and will continue to support recovery in the community, the spokesperson said.
The train derailment took place the afternoon before Thanksgiving, and allegedly caused the release of sulfur dioxide into the air.
Short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult, the U.S. Environment Protection Agency says on its website, putting sufferers of asthma, particularly children, at risk.
Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear declared a state of emergency following the crash, and local officials went door to door to evacuate some residents, who were moved to a school for safety.
CSX said on Sunday that its crews had successfully coordinated to remove the derailed rail cars, and to clean up and restore the crash site.
(Reporting by Clark Mindock, Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi, Nick Zieminski and Chizu Nomiyama)