Paulsboro Train Accident Reveals Dangers Posed by Chemical Transportation and Production to Communities and Workers

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Trains leaking toxic vinyl chloride into air and water. Vinyl chloride is used to manufacture PVC/vinyl plastic. Photo: Rae Lynn Stevenson/South Jersey Times


(Paulsboro, NJ) As over 200 homes continue to be evacuated due to the vinyl chloride train disaster, environmental and labor organizations called on the Obama Administration to use its power under the Clean Air Act to require chemical manufacturers to use safer available chemical processes and eliminate chemical disaster risks.   Groups also highlighted how the production and transportation of the carcinogen vinyl chloride to manufacture vinyl plastic, poses health hazards to communities and workers.

“This is the second major derailment of ultra-hazardous rail cars since the October 29th derailment near Louisville, KY,” said Rick Hind, Legislative Director of Greenpeace. “It was only a matter of luck that no one was killed in either of these accidents but people  were forced to seek medical treatment. Luck is not an acceptable policy when thousands of lives are at stake. Today there are safer available processes that should be required so that poison gases are no longer shipped through our communities. The graffiti on thousands of rail cars is proof that no one can protect them from mischief or a terrorist, and accidents are all too common. The Obama administration has championed this issue in Congress but also has the authority to require the use of safer processes. Once safer chemical processes are in use, rail car derailments will no longer pose a threat to entire cities.”

“Vinyl chloride is an extremely toxic chemical that causes cancer according to the EPA,” said Mike Schade, Campaign Coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ). “Friday’s train accident sent a toxic plume of this dangerous plastics chemical into people’s homes, sending dozens of residents and workers to the hospital, and leading many more to shelter in place and evacuate.  This is not the first time vinyl chloride has sickened communities.  Earlier this year a vinyl plastics plant in Louisiana exploded, sending a plume of toxic pollution downwind.  Safer alternatives are available, and that’s why leading businesses such as Apple, Google, Johnson & Johnson and Nike have committed to phasing it out.  This unfortunate accident highlights how vinyl is the most toxic plastic for children’s health and the environment.”

“The final destination of the railcars has not been reported, but we do know thousands of railcars of toxic chemicals traverse the country each day,” said Denise Patel, Project Coordinator for NJ Work Environment Council. “We also know that many of these chemicals can be produced on site in smaller quantities to avoid transporting them. New Jersey requires all plants using large quantities of highly hazardous chemicals to review options for safer alternatives. Since adopting the requirement under NJ’s Toxic Catastrophe Prevention Act in 2005, 41 of New Jersey’s 85 most dangerous facilities, including oil refineries and chemical plants, have taken steps to reduce inventories of toxic chemicals, installed new equipment and processes to reduce the risk of accidents, and take other measures to make plants safer for workers and communities.  The EPA should use its authority under the Clean Air Act to do the same. The idea has garnered support from over 100 labor and environmental organizations, and former NJ Governor Christie Whitman.  In light of this disaster, we urge the Obama Administration to act quickly.”

Resources for journalists:

August 2012 chemical disaster prevention op-ed by former NJ Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in The New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/30/opinion/the-epa-can-fix-the-chemical-flaw.html?_r=0

July 2012 chemical disaster prevention petition to the EPA from 50+ organizations:
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/404584-petition-to-epa-to-prevent-chem-disasters-filed.html

May 2012 Coalition letter to president Obama from 100+ organizations calling for chemical disaster prevention policy:
https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/357316-coalition-letter-obama-chemical-disaster.html

March 2012 National Environmental Justice Advisory Council letter to

the EPA: http://www.documentcloud.org/documents/332041-nejac-letter.html

Interactive Google mapping program to finding a high risk chemical facility anywhere in the U.S.:
http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/campaigns/toxics/

Background on the dangers of vinyl: www.chej.org/campaigns/pvc

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  • http://www.facebook.com/sarah.urquhart.104 Sarah Urquhart

    this is a video I made after visiting Paulsboro two days after the accident .. the tragedy here is not just the poorly maintained rail bridge, an accident waiting to happen, the spilling of vinyl chloride, sickening residents, but the town surrounded by oil refineries, an park area near the port an environmental clean up site, the oil spill in 2004 near Paulsboro, the third worst in US. waters. whenever there are accidents like this the focus is generally solely on that accident alone .. and not the accumulative affects of poisoning by toxic chemicals.l

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PtVFAq6ST4U