Hazmat and emergency crews have determined that levels of the toxic chemical vinyl chloride are once again unsafe near the site of Friday's train derailment and chemical spill, forcing schools to close and keeping some nearby residents away from their homes.
Homes near the crash site in Paulsboro, New Jersey have been evacuated since Friday, and officials expect at least another five days before the more than 100 residents can return home. On Monday morning, though, officials also forced members of the media -- including NBC10's Tim Furlong -- to leave the area due to a rise in chemical levels.
Furlong and other reporters were asked to leave the area at about 6:10 a.m. and move to the other side of town and workers trying to empty the chemical from a breached train car were ordered to stop working.
"We still have containers of vinyl chloride [in Mantua Creek], and as long as we've got vinyl chloride, we're taking precautions," Coast Guard Capt. Todd Wiemers told Philly.com.
Other residents are being asked to stay at home and take shelter-in-place. Shelter-in-place means selecting a small, interior room, with no or few windows and taking refuge there.
The train was crossing a bridge over Mantua Creek at about 7 a.m. Friday when the bridge collapsed underneath it, dumping six of the train's cars into the creek. Four of the cars contained vinyl chloride, a colorless flammable gas with a sweet odor that is used primarily to make polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipes and that evaporates quickly. One of the train cars was compromised, releasing about 180,000 pounds of the chemical into the creek, according to Conrail spokesperson John Enright.
Acute exposure to vinyl chloride via inhalation can cause dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, and even a loss of consciousness, and it is reported to be slightly irritating to the eyes and respiratory tract, according to a statement from Gloucester County Freeholder Director Robert Damminger.
More than 70 residents and workers in the small Gloucester county were transported to a local hospital Friday, complaining of respiratory problems.
The small Gloucester County town was shut down all day Friday due to the derailment and spill. Many residents are still not allowed in their homes -- some of them until next Saturday.
Public schools in the area were set to reopen Monday morning, but school district officials announced that they will remain closed following Monday's developments.
In a news conference Monday morning, the coast guard said that vinyl chloride levels are lower than any standard that would cause problems, but they are playing it safe.
"We've been looking at levels that are still on the order of 100 times less than a threshold that would pose any risk of long or short-term health effects," Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore.
Residents were warned Friday of the possible dangers of unsafe chemical levels when Conrail attempted to lift the train cars from the creek.