Paulsboro group seeks air monitors, evacuation plans

Posted: March 06, 2013

More than three months after a freight-train derailment over the Mantua Creek spewed toxic vinyl chloride into the atmosphere, a Paulsboro citizens group submitted a petition to the Borough Council on Tuesday evening asking it to consider installing at least four air-quality monitors around town, to be paid for by Conrail and local industry.

"We want to have some sort of alarm that we'll know our air has been compromised," said Davetta Howard, 59, a member of the Paulsboro Action Committee, which submitted the petition.

The group also asked the council to distribute to each residence emergency response procedures, so-called shelter-in-place guidelines, and evacuation plans, among other things. And it wants the borough to hold training sessions so residents understand the procedures.

The group said more than 175 people signed the petition, first circulated Saturday.

"We will take this into consideration," Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton said, adding that the council would also forward it to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman John Burzichelli, both Gloucester County Democrats.

Speaking later, Councilman Alfonso Giampola struck a cautionary note.

Giampola, also Paulsboro's fire chief, said that equipment that can test for multiple chemicals is expensive and that it was unclear if Conrail and local industries would pay for it.

He added that such equipment typically only tests for a limited number of chemicals.

Air quality was a subject of considerable debate in the days after a tanker car breached, releasing 23,000 gallons of the hazardous chemical into the air and forcing nearly 700 people from their homes.

At town meetings, residents questioned the methodology used by officials to establish the boundaries of the evacuation zone, saying they were breathing the same air as neighbors who were told to leave the area.

Paulsboro and surrounding towns are home to refineries and manufacturing plants, including the DuPont Co. Chambers Works in Pennsville.

Following the derailment, Conrail shut down rail operations for more than two weeks.

Engagement with the council represents a new front in the way residents are trying to fix responsibility for the hazardous chemicals in their midst.

Until Tuesday, many residents had targeted Conrail, which operates the bridge at the site of the derailment, and its parent companies, with at least 10 lawsuits seeking compensation and medical monitoring. More than 20 percent of the town's 6,100 people have sought representation, according to attorneys who have filed the suits.

Conrail declined to comment on the petition, but spokesman Michael Hotra said, "We remain committed to working with the Paulsboro community and its leadership to address concerns."

The Chemistry Council of New Jersey, a trade group, declined to comment.


Contact Andrew Seidman at 856-779-3846, aseidman@phillynews.com or @AndrewSeidman on Twitter.

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