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Paulsboro Train Derailment
Gloucester County, NJ - December 19, 2012 Final Update

Paulsboro Train Derailment

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.

TAGA Monitoring Summary [PDF 28 KB, 6 pp]


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.

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.

Map of Sampling Locations [JPG, 8.4 KB] | Air Sampling Results Table [PDF 22 KB, 1 pp]

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