Update, 11 a.m. Nov. 30: The chemicals have cleared the air and it's safe for residents to leave their homes and stop sheltering in place, officials say.
A freight train traveling over Mantua Creek derailed in Paulsboro this morning, releasing chemical smoke into the air and forcing nearby residents and schools to shelter in place.
A 7 a.m., Conrail swing bridge collapse plunged three cars into the creek, and the chemicals carried in one car leaked into the waterway. Gloucester County emergency officials say one car is carrying vinyl chloride, an industrial chemical. At least one other car in the water was carrying ethanol, an alcohol. The train has 84 cars in total.
There was a haze over the derailment scene earlier, but the chemicals have dissipated and emergency responders are not wearing protective garments.
Residents in West Deptford, Paulsboro and East Greenwich were ordered to shelter in place earlier Friday, the Gloucester County Office of Emergency Response says. That means staying indoors with doors and windows closed. Paulsboro schools are on lockdown and officials evacuated Commerce Street homes and businesses in Paulsboro.
West Deptford schools are not on lockdown, but are following the shelter in place order. At 9:22 a.m., Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman said schools had already been sheltering in place for 45 minutes, with recess and outdoor activities suspended. The district is in close contact with West Deptford police and Chief Craig Mangano, Kitchenman said. All updates regarding the schools will be sent out using the district's messaging system.
More than 20 people were treated for respiratory trouble this morning at Underwood Memorial Hospital in Woodbury; most had sore throats. The county is talking with hospital officials about any need for additional nurses or other support.
Roadways in the area are periodically shutting down. Interstate 295 is not closed, nor are the exits into Paulsboro blocked.
“There are many agencies involved in today’s event. The priority of course is the health and safety of our residents and the impact on our environment,” Gloucester County Freeholder Director Damminger. “As we learn of information we will be sharing it. Gloucester County has all of its assets on the ground and will continue to work to protect our citizens.”
An environmental company is setting up booms in Mantua Creek to deter chemicals from spreading in the creek or into the nearby Delaware River. The National Transportation Safety Board is dispatching a team to Paulsboro to investigate the bridge collapse.
Gloucester County's Hazmat Team and a hazmat team from the Paulsboro Refining Company are metering and monitoring the situation.
Vinyl chloride is a manufactured chemical used to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) for plastic products, according to the Centers for Disease Control. It is a colorless gas with a mild, sweet odor and is highly flammable. Exposure to vinyl chloride can cause dizziness, sleepiness and unconsciousness at low levels and death at extremely high levels, the CDC reports. (Click on the PDF, above right, for a safety sheet on vinyl chloride.)
The collapsed bridge was rebuilt two years ago, according to Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor. The bridge also collapsed in 2009, when 16 coal cars derailed, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.
Gloucester County plans to hold a press conference on the situation later Friday. West Deptford Patch will bring you information on the details.