| CLARKSBORO, N.J.
CLARKSBORO, N.J. Dec 5 A U.S. Coast Guard
official told an angry crowd on Wednesday that it may take until
next week to clear the air of toxic chemicals spilled after a
train wreck in their south New Jersey town, where evacuations
were ramped up this week.
Elevated levels of vinyl chloride, a highly toxic and
flammable industrial chemical, are low, but must get back down
to zero before residents of the 148 houses evacuated in
Paulsboro, New Jersey, are allowed to return to their homes,
said Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore.
"I can't say anything sooner than Sunday to get back into
your houses," Moore told the estimated 500 people at a meeting
at a school gymnasium in the neighboring town of Clarksboro.
Respiratory problems, coughing and light-headedness were the
problems that residents exposed to the hazardous chemicals may
experience, "but there is no long-term effect," said Lawrence
Ragonese, spokesman for the state Department of Environmental
"We are being very conservative because we are worried about
your health," he said.
Skeptical residents shouted doubts about the assurances they
heard from officials that vinyl chloride levels were low,
complaining that their neighborhood now smelled like
dry-cleaning chemicals and that there was a noticeable absence
of birds in the sky.
Rising levels of vinyl chloride were detected by air
monitors in the days after a rail bridge collapsed on Friday,
derailing seven of the 82 Conrail freight-train cars crossing
the Mantua Creek. The cars toppled into the waterway, which
feeds into the Delaware River near Philadelphia.
A gash in one of the cars allowed the leak of more than
12,000 gallons (45,425 liters) of vinyl chloride, authorities
said at the time of the wreck.
In recent days, detection of higher levels of the toxic
chemical prompted the shutdown of schools on Monday and a second
wave of home evacuations on Tuesday, bringing to 148 the total
number of homes ordered evacuated.
The rail bridge is near the residential and commercial
sections of the town of 6,100 people, which is also home to two
oil refineries as well as chemical plants.
Conrail is jointly owned by rail operators CSX Corp
and Norfolk Southern Corp.