Investigation underway into N.J. train derailment, chemical leak

PHILADELPHIA Sat Dec 1, 2012 2:57pm EST

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PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Federal transportation investigators have begun interviewing the crew of a train that was carrying hazardous materials when it derailed on a railroad bridge in New Jersey, officials said on Saturday.

National Transportation Safety Board Chairwoman Deborah Hersman said the agency would spend the next two weeks preparing a preliminary report on Friday's accident in the industrial town of Paulson

A bridge collapse derailed seven of the 82 Conrail freight train cars, and a tanker car that fell into Mantua Creek leaked vinyl chloride into the waterway, which feeds into the Delaware River near Philadelphia.

More than 12,000 gallons (45,425 liters) of the highly toxic and flammable industrial chemical vinyl chloride leaked from a gash in the tanker car's side following the derailment on Friday morning.

Twenty-two people were examined at a nearby hospital, but air monitors in the area did not register any problem, officials have said. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause a burning sensation in the eyes or respiratory discomfort.

Investigators are in the process of obtaining records from Conrail on inspections of the bridge over the Mantua Creek. They are also examining a derailment on the bridge in 2009, as well as any possible impact on the bridge from the high winds and rising waters that accompanied Superstorm Sandy.

"We are continuing to question the crew to get additional information," Hersman said at a press briefing. "We still have some work to do."

State Senator Steve Sweeney, whose district includes Paulsboro, told Reuters on Saturday that 106 residents who live close to the crash scene were evacuated from the area on Friday night in case any more of vinyl chloride escaped into the air or water.

"What it really was was just to be cautious," Sweeney said. The residents will be out of their homes for several days, and are staying with friends and relatives or hotels, he said.

Conrail is jointly owned by rail operators CSX Corp and Norfolk Southern Corp.

(Editing by Paul Thomasch and Sandra Maler)

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Water: The state drinking water standard for vinyl chloride is 0.2 parts per billion (ppb). We suggest you stop drinking water containing more than 0.2 ppb. If levels of vinyl chloride are above 2 ppb, avoid washing or bathing with it. You may still use the water to flush toilets. Contact your local public health agency for more information specific to your situation.

Air: No standards exist for regulating the amount of vinyl chloride allowed in the air of homes. However, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has set a residential indoor air action level for vinyl chloride at 0.62 parts per billion by volume (ppbv). The action level is considered to be protective of public health. Breathing vinyl chloride for a lifetime at 0.62 ppbv is very unlikely to be harmful to people. If vinyl chloride concentrations in air are above the action level, we recommend taking an action to halt exposure.

Most people cannot smell vinyl chloride until the level is between 300 and 10,000 ppbv. If you can smell the chemical, the level is too high to be safe.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulates the amount of vinyl chloride that can be released into outdoor ambient air by industries.


Vinyl chloride is very toxic. People should avoid contact with this chemical. The following health effects can occur after several years of exposure to vinyl chloride:

Damage to the nervous system
Changes in the immune system
Cancer: Exposure to vinyl chloride may increase a person’s risk of developing cancer. Human and animal studies show higher rates of liver, lung and several other types of cancer.

Reproductive Effects: People exposed to levels of 1,000,000 ppb or more in air may have an increased risk of miscarriage and birth defects. Damage to male sperm-producing organs has occurred in laboratory animals.

Organ Systems: Being exposed to vinyl chloride can affect a person’s liver, kidney, lung, spleen, nervous system and blood.

Bone: Long-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride can result in a decrease in bone strength in fingers, arms, and joints.

In general, chemicals affect the same organ systems in all people who are exposed. However, the seriousness of the effects may vary from person to person.

A person’s reaction depends on several things, including individual health, heredity, previous exposure to chemicals including medicines, and personal habits such as smoking or drinking. It is also important to consider the length of exposure to the chemical; the amount of chemical exposure; and whether the chemical was inhaled, touched, or eaten.


Vinyl chloride can be found in urine and body tissues after recent exposures. However, test results may not accurately reflect the level or duration of the exposure, or predict future health effects. Function tests of bone marrow, liver, kidney, and nerves may be useful in determining the effects of vinyl chloride exposure.
Seek medical advice if you have any symptoms that you think may be related to chemical exposure”.
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Dec 01, 2012 3:25pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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