Train Carrying Hazardous Materials Derails - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Train Carrying Hazardous Materials Derails, Falls Into South Jersey Creek

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Photo courtesy of Gary Stevenson. Photo courtesy of Gary Stevenson.
SkyFOX flies over the scene of the Paulsboro train derailment Friday evening. SkyFOX flies over the scene of the Paulsboro train derailment Friday evening.
Ambulances wait outside the Underwood Hospital emergency room Friday morning. Ambulances wait outside the Underwood Hospital emergency room Friday morning.

Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board are now working to figure out exactly what caused a train carrying hazardous material to derail over a Paulsboro, New Jersey bridge Friday morning.

The train, operated by Contrail, was making a trip from Camden to Paulsboro when it derailed around 7 a.m. over Mantua Creek.

The train used two locomotives and included more than 80 cars, seven of which derailed. The NTSB says five of those cars were on the bridge at the time and four ended up in the water.

At least one car carrying vinyl chloride was breached, according to the NTSB.

Vinyl chloride is a manufactured, colorless gas that has a mild, sweet odor. Officials say it can have a harmful affect on people who come into contact with it.

FOX 29's Dave Kinchen spoke with residents, who reported a strange smell at the time of the derailment.

Paulsboro resident Doug Ricotta described the smell to FOX 29 as "kind of sweet" and "not a healthy smell."

Emergency responders say more than two dozen people went to area hospitals for trouble breathing, however health officials have assured residents the air is safe.

Many of those patients were taken to Underwood Hospital in Woodbury, where they were placed into protective suits before wheeled into the hospital.

FOX 29's Claudia Gomez reports the entrance to the hospital's emergency room looked more like a makeshift locker room at one point, with bags of discarded shoes and clothing placed on the ground.

"We were not sure at the time of their arrival if they were contaminated with any chemical at that point," Paul Lambrecht of Underwood Memorial Hospital told FOX 29.

"So upon arrival at the emergency department, their clothes were taken from them, they were decontaminated, put in clean clothing and moved into the emergency department for treatment."

At one point, the hospital's emergency room became so busy that ambulances were backed up into the street.

Students at Paulsboro High School, just blocks from the derailment, were kept in school as the building went on lockdown, as did the district's two elementary schools. By mid-morning, parents were allowed to pick up their children.

As for removing the cars from the creek and determining the cause, the NTSB says it will take a while.

FOX 29 updated this story throughout the day. You can read our updates below and watch videos from our newscasts in the video above.

Update, 3:30 p.m.: Investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board say four tankers fell into Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, New Jersey, at least one of which was carrying vinyl chloride.

The NTSB says the train had two locomotives and 84 cars. Seven of the cars derailed, with two on the landside and five on the bridge.

According to the NTSB, 17 investigators are now on site of the derailment. The NTSB says it is looking for train recording devices so that it can check the train's speed.

A structural engineer is also expected to examine the bridge.

A cause for the derailment is not expected to be determined immediately, NTSB officials said.

UPDATE, 2:00pm: The NTSB will hold a 3:00 p.m. press conference to discuss the investigation into the "bridge collapse, derailment and hazmat-mat release in Paulsboro this morning."

UPDATE, 1:15pm Paulsboro Press Conference: A Conrail representative read a statement from the company.   They thanked all first responders and said that they are working with local and national officials on the investigation and cleanup of this accident.  The NTSB has not opened the site to reporters.   

UPDATE, 12:45pm Paulsboro Press Conference:  Officials announced that the area around the train derailment is safe.  The air quality and drinking water has been tested and has been deemed safe.   The train and all of it's cars are stabilized at this time.  The cars that derailed are going to have to be removed, however, this could take a day or so.  first, the NTSB will have to review and approve the plan and then the proper equipment will have to come down the Atlantic Ocean from New York.  The compromised car carrying the vinyl chloride has residual frozen product in it.  That product will have to be vaporized before removal.   Officials also noted that the bridge is a "swing bridge."   There are very few of these on the East Coast and it's safety record will be reviewed.  

UPDATE, 11:55am: At this time, a total of 66 people have been treated at Underwood Hospital.   Those treated complained of headaches and nausea and that they tasted a "sweetness in the air." 

UPDATE, 11:40am from FOX 29's Claudia Gomez:  Students at Paulsboro High School sent home about 10:45.  Kids at the two elementary schools are getting picked up by parents.  Emergency officials told the school's superintendent that they are in a "window of opportunity" when the cloud of gas has dissipated, but before more gets released as they attempt to remove train cars.

UPDATE, 10:45am Paulsboro Press Conference:  The Mayor of Paulsboro, and representatives from the NJDOT and local environmental agencies gathered to address the media regarding this morning's accident.  2 locomotives, 82 cars and a caboose were traveling from Camden to Logan Township.  It was crossing over a small bridge covering the Mantua Creek when several cars derailed.  The cars tumbled into the water.  Of the 4 cars carrying vinyl chloride, one car was compromised.  The substance leaked out and eventually evaporated.    The Mayor asked all residents to pay attention to the county's reverse 911 system.   The creek has been boomed off as a precautionary matter.  18 people went to a local hospital where the majority were complaining of sore throats.  Paulsboro students are still on lock down.  The air quality has been checked and deemed safe. There will be another press conference and update at noon and 1pm.

UPDATE, 10:01am: According to a Gloucester County Press release,  18 people with respiratory issues have reported to Underwood Memorial Hospital. Gloucester County HazMat Team and HazMat Team from PRC Refinery are doing metering and monitoring.   The County Office of Emergency Management has issued a Shelter in Place activation and school children are sheltered in place in Paulsboro; East Greenwich; and West Deptford.

The County has all available and appropriate Emergency Responders on the scene.

UPDATE, 9:52am:  Paulsboro school officials tell FOX 29 that about 125 students are currently in three school buildings on lockdown due to the train derailment. 

School officials say other students who did not make it to school were instructed to stay home.

Area hospitals are prepared for incoming patients affected.  It is unclear how many patients have been treated.

UPDATE, 9:45am: NTSB is on it's way to the scene of the train derailment.

Several cars carrying chemicals fell into the Mantua creek after the bridge it was traveling over was compromised.  This is the same bridge that buckled in 2009 while a train carrying coal passed over it. 

The cars are leaking vinyl chloride, which is an industrial chemical chiefly used in producing PVC.  It is highly toxic, flammable and carcinogenic.

Several fire companies, and HAZMAT crews have responded and the US Coast Guard is also joining in the efforts.

Paulsboro High School Students have been on lockdown since 7:15 am.  Students, staff and faculty have been ordered to the gym to seek shelter.

Local residents have been advised to close all windows and doors.  

Click here to visit Gloucester County's Latest Alerts webpage for local information.

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