By Dave Warner
PAULSBORO, N.J. Dec 7 Residents of New Jersey
evacuated after a freight train derailment last week spewed
toxic vinyl chloride began returning home on Friday as tests of
the air came back clean, a Coast Guard official said.
Exactly one week after a bridge collapsed, derailing seven
of the 82 Conrail freight-train cars crossing the Mantua Creek
in southern New Jersey, residents who were ordered out of more
than 200 homes nearest the wreck were allowed back into their
homes on Friday afternoon.
Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore said air tests in Paulsboro
showed no further evidence of vinyl chloride, which had leaked
from a gash in one tanker that tumbled into the waterway that
feeds into the Delaware River near Philadelphia.
At the time of the wreck, authorities said 12,000 gallons
(45,425 liters) of vinyl chloride had escaped.
Groups of residents were being led to their homes by law
enforcement and air quality officials. The Coast Guard also
offered in-home air quality checks to any resident seeking
further assurance that their home is safe.
One of those set to return home Friday was Yasmen Stafford,
19, the mother of 6-month-old twin boys who has been living in a
motel for the last week.
"I just want to get settled back in and get back to my
regular routine," said Stafford as she waited at the Paulsboro
volunteer fire department for an escort by a police officer and
air quality specialist.
Koren Warrington, 39, who has also been living in a nearby
hotel, confessed she was a "little nervous" about returning
home, fearing her home would smell of toxic chemicals.
Paulsboro Mayor Jeff Hamilton said 680 people from some 204
houses had been evacuated after the train crash. He said he knew
of nobody that has reported an air quality problem upon
Vinyl chloride is a highly toxic and flammable industrial
chemical. Exposure to it can cause respiratory problems,
coughing and light-headedness, said Lawrence Ragonese, spokesman
for the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The failed rail-bridge is near both 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.