(Paulsboro, New Jersey – November 30, 2012)
A New Jersey suburb of Philadelphia found itself isolated from the outside world early Friday morning when a CSX freight train traveling on ConRail trackage derailed as a railroad bridge over Mantua Creek collapsed, sending a number of tank cars filled with hazardous materials into the waterway, triggering an evacuation, closing access to the community and locking down all three schools in Paulsboro, NJ, as the 7:15 A.M. accident came before school transportation authorities could abort the morning school bells.
Not all the chemicals being transported by the three tank cars that fell into Mantua Creek, which empties into the Delaware River, and ruptured were immediately identified. However, one tank car was known to be carrying vinyl chloride, a colorless gas with a sweet odor, which is easily ignited. Regarding humans, the short-term exposure can affect the central nervous system, resulting in drowsiness, dizziness, and headaches. The chemical, which is used to manufacture vinyl plastics and PVC pipe, is a known carcinogen with long term, concentrated exposure.
The U.S. Coast Guard placed an evacuation order in effect for residents and businesses within a half-mile circle of the bridge, with schools ordered to be treated as “shelter in place”, allowing neither entrance nor exit. Meanwhile, police authorities closed all major roads leading into Paulsboro, including exits off Interstate Highway 295.
A dozen and a half employees of a marine terminal in the area fell ill from inhaling the odors and needed medical treatment. Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury, NJ was in the process of treating 42 people for respiratory problems, while another 20 victims were being treated at Kennedy Health System in Washington Township, NJ.
The Gloucester County HazMat team and an emergency response team from the PRC Refinery both responded to the derailment.
ConRail spokesman John Enright said the bridge which collapsed had undergone extensive repair in 2009 after it fell under the weight of a coal train in August of that year.