New Jersey Train Derailment Results in Release of Toxic Chemicals

A train derailment in New Jersey last week has resulted in exposure to massive amounts of toxic chemicals for local residents of Paulsboro, and the risks associated with chemical release resulted in the shut down schools and businesses yesterday.  

The accident, which occurred Friday morning, caused a bridge to collapse and 82 cars to derail, forcing some cars into the nearby Mantua Creek. The train in the accident consisted of two locomotives, 82 rail cars and a caboose. It started its journey at the Pavonia Yard in Camden, New Jersey, according to Conrail’s press release.

A tank carrying 25,000 gallons of vinyl chloride sustained major damage in the train wreck, releasing more than half of its hazardous chemical contents into the air and creek.

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The initial release of toxic chemicals following the train derailment forced the evacuation of nearly 50 homes and over 100 residents who lived near the crash site. Twenty-two people were taken to the hospital and examined.

Paulsboro, New Jersey Residents Exposed to Dangerous Chemicals

The town of Paulsboro is home to more than 6,000 residents, who were advised to stay inside with windows closed shortly after the wreck.

By 6 a.m. Monday morning, many local schools and businesses were closed for the day after unsafe levels of vinyl chloride were detected twice in the air nearby. Hazardous levels peaked again at 6 p.m., after officials registered more than one part per million of vinyl chloride in the air. Officials required the use of booms to trap the chemical in the water.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless, highly flammable industrial chemical used to manufacture polymer polyvinyl chloride, a chemical which is used to manufacture PVC pipes and bottles. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause a burning sensation in the eyes or respiratory discomfort.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) short term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride through inhalation can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches. Prolonged exposure can result in liver damage, and in some cases has been shown to increase a person’s risk of a rare form of liver cancer.

The Mantua Creek feeds into the Delaware River near Philadelphia and is a common recreation area for residents during the summer months who jet ski, fish and go crabbing in the creek.

New Jersey Bridge Is Site of Previous Train Derailment

The bridge has undergone a series of extensive repairs following a 2009 derailment. The recent derailment accident appears to be caused by series of rail alignment problems, according to the National Transportation Safety Board. The NTSB also confirmed reports of repair issues on the bridge as recent as the day before the accident.

“We very much regret the impact on the local community,” said Conrail representative John Enright, who was at the scene. “We will be working very closely with federal investigators to determine the cause.”

The bridge is owned and operated by Conrail, a company which is jointly owned by CSX Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp. 

Photo Courtesy of–mike–/ CC BY 2.0


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