First responders sue Conrail over Paulsboro chemical spill

Outrage over last fall’s chemical spill in Paulsboro, N.J. continued this week in the form of another lawsuit.

Two-dozen first responders from Paulsboro and nearby Greenwich Township are suing Conrail for its part in the train derailment that caused the spill.

On November 30, 2012, a Conrail freight train ran off the tracks while crossing a problematic swing bridge that spans Mantua Creek in Paulsboro.

The accident sent more than 100,000 pounds of vinyl chloride – a toxic chemical – into the creek and immediate neighborhood.

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The area around the crash was cloaked in a toxic fog, forcing more than 300 families from their homes and over 60 individuals to the hospital.

The 36-page civil suit, filed in Philadelphia, where Conrail is headquartered, claims the company did not have an adequate emergency plan in place following the derailment.

As a result of Conrail’s alleged negligence, the suit claims, first responders were not properly protected from the vinyl chloride – a known human carcinogen.

“They were thrown into the breach over here and put on the front lines and exposed to the very highest levels of the toxic gas for the longest period of time and not given any protective equipment even though Conrail was well aware this equipment was needed,” said Mark Cuker, an attorney with Williams, Cuker, & Berezofsky, P.C., one of two firms representing the plaintiffs.

The suit also maintains that Conrail, which owns and operates the bridge, not only downplayed the significance of the amount of toxicity of the vinyl chloride, but didn’t identify the chemical for an entire hour after the derailment.

Urine tests to determine exposure to the chemical were also not performed “promptly” or “properly,” according to the suit. Many first responders, according to the suit, were tested after the recommended 24-hours and some test results were never reported to individuals.

The group, comprised of police officers and other city employees, is seeking in excess of $50,000, largely to cover health complications – some have been treated for respiratory and neurological ailments – that have cropped up or may down the road.

Lawyers with Saltz Mongeluzzi, Barrett & Bendesky, P.C are also representing the responders.

A Conrail representative said the company will, similar to other legal proceedings, respond to the lawsuit “at the appropriate time and in the appropriate place through its legal filings.”

More than 250 Paulsboro-area residents have filed civil suits in connection to the accident.

CSX, Inc. and Norfolk Southern, Inc., two other freight-train companies, are also named as defendants in the case.

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