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Freight Train Derails, Spills Chemicals Into Creek In Southern New Jersey

(credit: CBS Philly)

(credit: CBS Philly)

PAULSBORO, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A freight train derailed Friday on an old railroad bridge that has had problems before, toppling two tanker cars partially into a creek and causing a leak of hazardous gas that was blamed for sickening dozens of people, authorities said.

The accident happened just after 7 a.m. when a train with two locomotives, 82 freight cars and a caboose made its way from Camden to the industrial town of Paulsboro, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia International Airport.

Cars went off the rails on a swing-style bridge, owned by Conrail, over Mantua Creek.

One tanker containing 25,000 gallons of vinyl chloride was sliced open in the accident and some of the gas spewed into the air, while the rest turned into a solid and settled into the bottom of the tanker.

Vinyl chloride is used in the making of plastics, according to Dr. Charles Haas, a professor of environmental engineering at Drexel University, CBS 2 sister station KYW in Philly reported. The chemical can cause nausea and breathing problems with short-term exposure.

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More than 70 people were rushed to the hospital, with most having complained of breathing problems.

Residents in three towns — Paulsboro, East Greenwich, and West Deptford — were told to stay inside after the derailment before an all-clear was given.

By late morning, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said that sensors were not measuring any amounts of the chemical at the site.

Members of the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in New Jersey on Friday afternoon to investigate the incident. They will try to determine whether it was a problem with the bridge that caused the derailment or if the derailment is to blame for the partial bridge collapse.

The bridge usually supports at least three major trains each day serving refineries and other customers in an industrial area along the Delaware River. It was rebuilt after it buckled in 2009.

The Federal Railroad Administration last inspected the bridge in January 2010 and found no defects. Railroads are required by law to conduct their own inspections. The FRA does not know when Conrail last did one.

Nine cars on a coal train derailed at the moveable bridge on Aug. 23, 2009, in an accident that was attributed to a bridge misalignment.

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