(Paulsboro, New Jersey – December 5, 2012)
The natives are restless in Paulsboro, NJ, and they have plenty of reason to complain as efforts to abate and clean up a leaking tank car of vinyl chloride and a submerged tanker loaded with ethanol lag behind schedule and schools remain closed while the residents of more than 200 homes in the 27 city blocks are still unable to return home as dozens of hazardous materials experts try to explain a spike in air contamination levels from one part per million to 10 parts per million..
Hundreds of residents were lined up prior to the opening of the doors of Paulsboro’s Nehaunsey Middle School (one of the only schools outside the evacuation area), as they awaited a scheduled public forum on the matter of the derailment of several cars of the CSX freight train which was crossing the Jefferson Street Bridge over Mantua Creek, which feeds into the Delaware River adjacent to Philadelphia International Airport.
The frustrated, angry crowd, most of whom wanted to know the long and short term health effects of inhaling the colorless, flammable, carcinogenic gas, how long they would continue to be away from their homes and if it will be environmentally safe once they return, and – especially – who is accountable for the accident and how they will be held responsible.
An 84-car CSX freight train had stopped for a red signal at the bridge early last Friday, November 30 morning. After failing to get a green signal with his bridge control remote device, the CSX conductor got off the locomotive, walked the bridge and allegedly inspected it, tried the remote a few times more, and finally requested and received permission from the Conrail dispatcher to proceed across the bridge at restricted speed. The bridge control had failed in a similar manner early the day before (Thursday, November 29), and a four-inch gap in the sliding structure that lines up the four rail ends was found. However, after several attempts, the mechanisms lined up and the signal turned to green. The train’s two locomotives and five freight cars got across the bridge’s swing span before the derailment occurred.
The evacuation was ordered soon afterward and the town’s three schools, all full of students, were placed on lockdown. Over a hundred residents and students were sent to emergency rooms at two hospitals in neighboring communities, and, according to U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore, the cleanup agencies had no explanation for why the measurement of the chemical increased Monday, but “Whatever the reason, it sure did cause a lot of problems and worries for the residents of Paulsboro.”
At the informational meeting, angry shouts of “It’s a lie” and “Tell us the truth” were accompanied by boos as New Jersey Dept. of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Ragonese vainly attempted to give an update on the levels of vinyl chloride.
“It’s worse than what he’s saying,” yelled evacuee Tony Bennett.
“Everybody keeps circle talking,” added Steve Filiaggi.
The NTSB, meanwhile, said it was researching 23 “trouble tickets” submitted in regard to the bridge in the last year.
New Jersey Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno and New Jersey members of the U.S. House of Representatives plan to be on site to tour the area Thursday.
Meanwhile, residents were told they may be allowed back into their homes by Sunday.