Air quality raises concern at NJ train wreck site
by Geoff Mulvihill, Associated Press
December 03, 2012 11:45 AM | 1143 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Freight train tank cars that derailed Friday are seen in Mantua Creek Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Paulsboro, N.J. Residents in an area of about 12 blocks near the derailment remain out of their homes as officials continued their efforts to clear a hazardous gas that spewed from a ruptured freight train car. The precautionary evacuations were ordered late Friday, hours after a train derailment, and will likely remain in effect throughout the weekend and possibly longer. The order came after readings showed higher levels of vinyl chloride in the air. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
Freight train tank cars that derailed Friday are seen in Mantua Creek Saturday, Dec. 1, 2012, in Paulsboro, N.J. Residents in an area of about 12 blocks near the derailment remain out of their homes as officials continued their efforts to clear a hazardous gas that spewed from a ruptured freight train car. The precautionary evacuations were ordered late Friday, hours after a train derailment, and will likely remain in effect throughout the weekend and possibly longer. The order came after readings showed higher levels of vinyl chloride in the air. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Several cars lay in the water after a freight train derailed in Paulsboro, N.J., Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. People in three southern New Jersey towns were told Friday to stay inside after the freight train derailed and several tanker cars carrying hazardous materials toppled from a bridge and into a creek. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Several cars lay in the water after a freight train derailed in Paulsboro, N.J., Friday, Nov. 30, 2012. People in three southern New Jersey towns were told Friday to stay inside after the freight train derailed and several tanker cars carrying hazardous materials toppled from a bridge and into a creek. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
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PAULSBORO, N.J. (AP) — Residents of Paulsboro were ordered to stay inside and schools were closed Monday after unsafe levels of a chemical were found in the air near where a train derailed last week.

Officials said shelter-in-place order came at about 6 a.m. when the level of vinyl chloride spiked.

U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kathy Moore said the agencies involved in cleaning up the cars are unsure why the chemical level rose Monday.

She said officials in towns near industrial Paulsboro, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia International Airport, have been put on notice in case the chemical level rises in their communities, too.

She said that sheltering in place was a better move than evacuating Paulsboro because on a day without much wind, the gas stays close to the ground but does not penetrate sealed homes. "We just don’t want people walking around outside," Moore said.

By 9 a.m., she said the level had dropped. But it was not clear when the sheltering order would be lifted. The order meant that everything in town was closed Monday morning.

Work on the cleanup was also halted because of the chemical levels, which were above 1 part per million in the air.

Seven cars on a freight train derailed early Friday as the train passed over a bridge that buckled in 2009. One car carrying vinyl chloride, a gas used to make PVC plastic, ruptured. Dozens of nearby residents were sickened — though none had life-threatening conditions. More than 100 residents were evacuated.

The presence of the chemical, which in high amounts, is linked to problems from breathing trouble and dizziness to death, has complicated the cleanup and investigation of what went wrong.

National Transportation Safety Board members have been conducting interviews and reviewing records, but staying away from the site.

Late Sunday, crews began removing the vinyl chloride, which had naturally solidified, from the ruptured tanker. Moore said that work stopped at about 2 a.m. Monday because workers were having trouble reaching the remaining chemical at the bottom of the tanker car.

She said it’s not clear whether the chemical removal is connected to the higher levels found in the air hours later.

The NTSB has said that signal problems were reported at the bridge the day before the derailment.

Some politicians have said the accident points to a bigger problem of heavy trains passing over aging infrastructure.

The low bridge that partially collapsed last week was originally built in 1873.

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