Paulsboro Train Derailment
Gloucester County, NJ - December 19, 2012 Final Update
On November 30, 2012, thirteen Conrail freight cars transporting chemicals and other goods derailed and overturned on a bridge crossing the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, New Jersey. Three cars fell into the creek. One of the tank cars released approximately 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air as vapor. The incident occurred approximately 1.5 miles from its confluence with the Delaware River, and very close to the Philadelphia International Airport.
Vinyl chloride, a colorless gas industrial chemical with a sweet odor, is known to be highly toxic, flammable and carcinogenic. It is primarily used in the production of PVC plastic. Short-term exposure to high levels of vinyl chloride in the air can cause dizziness, drowsiness and headaches. Exposure to very high levels can result in death.
On November 30 at the request of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), the EPA brought in its special bus, named the Trace Atmospheric Gas Analyzer (TAGA) to conduct air monitoring. Throughout the EPA’s entire response, the TAGA bus was utilized to collect real-time measurements of vinyl chloride. In addition to the mobile TAGA bus, on December 1, EPA set up a network of nine air monitoring instruments in the community to monitor volatile organic compounds in real time for the remainder of the response. Vinyl chloride is a volatile organic compound and the EPA used these instruments to indicate its potential presence in the air.
The TAGA readings are instantaneous measurements that are indicative of levels that can be quickly used to make operational decisions.
Results of the mobile TAGA and stationary instrument readings showed that levels of vinyl chloride fluctuated. From November 30 to December 5, EPA monitoring found periodic exceedances of the level of concern. When the level was exceeded, EPA immediately informed the NJDEP and the U.S Coast Guard so that decisions could be made to protect the responders and the nearby community. Because the monitoring results showed some levels above the level of concern, the EPA supported the county and the town in their decision to evacuate residents within a defined area. The EPA continued its TAGA bus work until the train recovery operation was completed.
On December 8, EPA began air sampling for vinyl chloride in the air for 24-hour periods using stainless steel sampling devices called Summa canisters. On December 16, the last freight car containing vinyl chloride was removed from Mantua Creek. EPA sampling ended on December 17. The results of the Summa canister sampling data can be used to evaluate people's potential daily exposure to vinyl chloride.
- Results of the Summa canister samples taken before the rail car removal operations (December 8-9) showed that levels of vinyl chloride were detected at concentrations that are within EPA's acceptable risk range. Air samples were collected at nine locations over two consecutive days and were analyzed for vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride was detected at all of the locations with a maximum reading of .930 parts per billion near the Saint James Episcopal Church at Commerce and East Jefferson Streets, and a minimum reading of .0747 parts per billion near the school at Spruce Street and Moreland Avenue.
- Results of the Summa canister samples taken during the rail car removal operations (December 12-16) showed that levels of vinyl chloride were either not detected, or were detected at concentrations that are within EPA's acceptable risk range. Air samples were collected at up to eleven locations over two consecutive days and were analyzed for vinyl chloride. Vinyl chloride was detected at each of the locations, on at least one occasion, with a maximum reading of .903 parts per billion at the end of East Washington Street, and a minimum reading of .0309 parts per billion at the firehouse on Swedesboro Avenue.
- Results of the Summa canister vinyl chloride samples taken at eleven locations after the rail car removal operations (December 17) showed that levels of vinyl chloride were either not detected, or were detected at concentrations that are within EPA's acceptable risk range. Vinyl chloride was detected at seven of the locations with a maximum reading of .613 parts per billion at the end of East Washington Street, and a minimum reading of .0417 parts per billion at the firehouse on Swedesboro Avenue.
EPA’s sampling results were compared to screening values designed to protect people's health and developed for this incident based on an assumed exposure for vinyl chloride of 350 days for one year. All of the detected values were within or below the EPA's acceptable cancer risk range of one in one million (.0877 parts per billion) to one in ten thousand (8.77 parts per billion).
EPA’s monitoring and sampling of air continued until the conclusion of the Paulsboro Train Derailment recovery operations on December 17, 2012.
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