More than half of Paulsboro, NJ, residents surveyed experienced some type of symptoms following a November 2012 train derailment and chemical spill, a New Jersey Department of Health (DOH) report said.
The report details the results of two surveys conducted of Paulsboro households — one a door-to-door, in-person survey, the second a mailed survey sent to every house in the borough. The report, entitled “Vinyl Chloride Exposure Study of the Community and Local Emergency Responders,” is on the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) website.
The report measured the effects of vinyl chloride exposure in Paulsboro’s residents following the train accident over the Jefferson Street railroad bridge that resulted in three tank cars falling into the water, one of which was pierced, spilling thousands of pounds of the toxic chemical into the borough’s air.
One hundred fifty-four households participated in the in-person interviews, while 580 households participated in the mailed survey, with results for 1,930 residents.
A high percentage of Paulsboro’s residents reported smelling an odd odor the morning of the train derailment and the majority of respondents reported new or worsening symptoms ranging from headaches and eye irritation to nausea and difficulty breathing, the report said.
“Overall, 58 percent of participants in the in-person survey and 66 percent in the mailed survey reported experiencing new or worsening symptoms in the week-long period after the train derailment and vinyl chloride release,” the report said.
The most-reported symptoms were headaches, upper respiratory symptoms and coughing. Symptoms were more frequent for those with pre-existing respiratory health problems such as asthma and COPD, as well as current smokers.
Paulsboro ended up split into four sampling areas for the surveys: A. the area evacuated at some time on Nov. 30, B. the area evacuated on Dec. 4, C. The area never evacuated but immediately adjacent to areas A and B, and D, the remaining areas of Paulsboro.
The survey found that those in area C — those not evacuated but immediately adjacent to the evacuation zone — reported the highest frequency of symptoms, while area D had the lowest percentage.
Mark Cuker, an attorney who is representing thousands of Paulsboro’s residents in lawsuits against Conrail — the owner of both the train and the bridge the accident occurred on — said this report validates what his clients have been claiming since 2012.
“These levels are unsafe. They are causing health problems and aggravating existing health problems,” he said. “I think the data pretty much speaks for itself.”
According to the Department of Health, this data was a summary to the NTSB and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health which issued a report specific to first responders in the case.
Conrail representatives declined to comment citing the ongoing NTSB investigation and this document’s status as an exhibit.
Terry Williams, spokesman for the NTSB, said the investigation is ongoing and the agency will hold a final meeting in the next few months to determine the probable cause of the accident and make recommendations to the parties that need to make changes to ensure similar accidents do not occur again.