Responders Did More Harm Than Good in Paulsboro Train Derailment: NSTB

Hearings into response to dangerous derailment being held in Washington, D.C.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The National Transportation Safety Board shifted its focus to the decision to 'shelter and place,' rather than evacuate following the train derailment that leaked toxic fumes of vinyl chloride into the air. NBC10's Cydney Long reports with the latest.
    NTSB Criticizes Local Response to Train Derailment

    Federal accident investigators believe local police and fire officials did more harm than good after a freight train carrying hazardous chemicals derailed in Gloucester County, N.J. last year.

    At a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, investigators say local authorities didn't follow safety standards for handling a chemical spill, adding to first responders' and the public's exposure to dangerous vinyl chloride gas.

    In the early morning hours of November 30, 2012, a half dozen rail cars derailed on a bridge crossing the Mantua Creek. One car containing vinyl chloride was ripped open after crashing into the creek below, releasing 20,000 gallons of the chemical.

    When the vinyl chloride mixed with water, a vapor cloud was created, engulfing large swaths of the town.

    Finger Pointing Over Train Derailment Response

    [PHI] Finger Pointing Over Train Derailment Response
    NBC10's Jesse Gary reports on two investigations into last year's train derailment that caused a toxic chemical leak that sickened people and caused evacuations in Paulsboro, N.J. The state report and federal hearings have pointed out a lack of proper equipment and communication.

    NTSB investigator Paul Stencil said local authorities failed to follow standard procedures requiring the use of breathing apparatuses for responders -- even though monitors found unsafe concentrations of the chemical in the air.

    "One hour and a half after the derailment, the hazardous materials team air monitoring data showed the first responders being exposed to vinyl chloride concentrations that significantly exceeded permissible or safe levels," Stencil testified.

    Fire officials also set up a command post 50 yards from where tank cars were leaking. Safety standards called for the post to be positioned in a safe area outside the hot zone.

    Stencil said investigators found misinformation about the hazardousness of the chemical ran rampant following the derailment.

    New Criticism of Paulsboro Derailment Response

    [PHI] New Criticism of Paulsboro Derailment Response
    The NTSB opens two days of hearings into the emergency response to last year's derailment and chemical leak in Paulsboro, NJ. Now, there's new criticism. NBC10's Rosemary Connors explains.

    Paulsboro Police reported the chemical was non-toxic, even after fire officials learned vinyl chloride was highly flammable and could cause respiratory and nervous system issues, according to the NTSB.

    Police also changed an initial evacuation order to a shelter-in-place order about a half hour after the accident based on the false information over the toxicity of the chemical.

    “Despite public statements that the hazard had completely dissipated, air monitoring teams continued to detect a vinyl chloride throughout the morning of the accident,” Stencil said.

    Evacuation orders were eventually reordered that evening and lasted for several days.

    Police Chief Defends First Responders to Train Derailment

    [PHI] Police Chief Defends First Responders to Train Derailment
    After federal investigators criticized the response to the Conrail train derailment by local police and firefighters, Paulsboro Police Chief Chris Wachter believes that the actions by his department was appropriate. NBC10's Cydney Long speaks to a resident that had to evacuate her home after 20,000 gallons of vapor leaked into the air from the train.

    In Paulsboro, news of the testimony by investigators did not sit well with Paulsboro Police Cheif Chris Wachter. He called the criticism of the local response the "federal government at its best."

    "They weren't here. They don't know, we know what we did was appropriate, prudent for the community and department," Chief Wachter said.

    However, resident Vera Robinson, who had to be evacuated from her home for 10 days, feels responders should have evacuated the area sooner.

    "When I first went outside there was a great big cloud and I was not told to leave right away. I was here for most of the day," Robinson recalled. "I'm concerned about my health. I don't know what is going to happen to me in the future."

    NTSB Hear From Conrail Train Crew for 1st Time

    [PHI] NTSB Hear From Conrail Train Crew for 1st Time
    The National Transportation Safety Board panel heard from Conrail's train engineer, Mark Mather, and Conrail's train conductor, Wilbert Den Ouden, for the first time since the devastating train derailment in November. Investigators are being critical of the train crew amd also the local responders that arrived at the scene in Paulsboro, NJ. NBC10's Doug Shimell reports.

    Robinson also said she'd like officials to test the soil to see whether the leak has left long term effects.

    "I usually plant a vegetable garden, so I haven't done that now," she said. "I don't know if it would be safe for me to eat anything out of the ground."

    There are no fatalities linked to the accident, but several residents have filed lawsuits against Conrail, which owns the track.

    Conrail officials say they are cooperating with the investigation and will participate in the hearings -- which are set to last two days.

     


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