Paulsboro Train Derailment, Bridge Collapse, Chemical Spill [VIDEO]
An 84-car train derailed Friday morning in Paulsboro and went into Mantua Creek releasing toxic chemicals into the air with area residents urged to stay indoors for a time.
Deborah Hersman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board says thei first step of their investigation is to document everything while working with the community to remove the seven cars derailed that derailed and four tankers that fell into the waters of the Mantua Creek.
One tanker car contained 32,000 pounds of vinyl chloride which has since dissipated said Assemblyman John Burzichelli (D) at a press conference in the morning. He says the rail bridge, which is a swing bridge, apparently buckled, just as it did during a derailment in 2009 following an accident that derailed 16 cars carrying coal. The bridge was rebuilt in 2010.
A crane will likely be brought in from New York Harbor to remove the rail cars from the bridge and water pending a plan from the NTSB.
Burzichelli said there is a risk that some additional chemical could be released into the air when the train is moved.
Residents of Paulsboro and the surrounding towns of West Deptford and East Greenwich Township were urged to stay indoors and close all doors & windows. This shelter in-place order was lifted early on Friday afternoon. No mass evacuation was ordered; inspection crews around the bridge worked without any protective gear.
State Senate President Steve Sweeney (D), who represents Paulsboro, told Eric Scott on New Jersey 101.5 that the the bridge, owned by Conrail, collapsed. Residents said they had been hearing "noises they had not heard before" and Conrail crews had been investigating.
Listen to Senator Steve Sweeney's conversation with Eric Scott
[audio://townsquare.media/site/385/files/2012/11/SWEENEY.mp3|titles=Steve Sweeney On
Questions About An Accident In 2009
Just over three years ago, a train carrying coal cars derailed after the railroad bridge over the Mantua Creek collapsed. On August 23, 2009, the trains were torn up from the bridge up to the crossing near Penn Line Road. The Conrail bridge buckled, derailing 16 cars, according to the Paulsboro Fire Department.
The bridge was quickly repaired and put back into service in 2010 reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Hersman said the NTSB did not investigate the 2009 derailment.
Sweeney has questions about the bridge repairs "We have a lot of questions to be answered" about the adequacy of that repair Sweeney told the Philadelphia Inquirer. "Was it a temporary repair? Was it done properly? Were they going to come back and do more later?" Sweeney asked.
The bridge is privately owned and its inspection records are not public. However, said Sweeney, "There's no way they are going to be able to hide it. You know we're going to get it," he said. "I'm not pointing fingers at anybody, but this is an issue of concern."
Officials at Underwood-Memorial Hospital say 71 people have been
transported with complaints related to the rail accident. The hospital's
communication's office says all are believed to have complained of
having respiratory problems.
Conrail has not offered comment on the incident. Calls by Townsquare Media NJ has been met with a recorded message.
“There’s a total of about 150 kids total within the district right now,” said Dr. Frank Scambia, Superintendent of Paulsboro School District. “Kids, who were not in district weren’t in the school when the lockout down went into effect, so therefore they were turned away to go back to their homes,” he said.
They were all sent home when the shelter-in-home order was lifted.
A caller to Townsquare Media NJ described a, "solid wall of white fog" rising to the west of Interstate 295. Others say there was already fog present in the area. He described the air as discoloring as he spoke on the phone. That fog seemed to dissipate an hour after the derailment.
The area is to the southeast of the Philadelphia International Airport which lies across the Delaware River. Light and variable winds kept the chemical from drifting outside of the immediate accident area.
Sweeney describes the area as very industrial but there are some homes as well. Paulsboro High School and Billingsport Elementary School are also located nearby. The Paulsboro Supermarket & Deli is on nearby Delaware Street.
What is Vinyl Chloride?
The EPA lists Vinyl Chloride on it's air toxics web site as a Group A human carcinogen used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic and vinyl products. It is "extremely flammable" in a fire and can cause frostbite on contract according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety & Health. It has a sweet smell.
The EPA says short term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride in the air has an effect on the central nervous system including dizziness, drowsiness, and headaches.
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Matthew White, Leanne Vuksanic, David Matthau, Christina Lobrutto and the Associated Press contributed to this report.