FOR RESIDENTS: Operation Home Safely Fact Sheet

Friday, December 7, 2012

General Information Regarding the Incident

Just after 7:00 AM on November 30, 2012, a train derailed in Paulsboro, NJ, at the East Jefferson Street Bridge.  Several rail cars containing vinyl chloride were involved in the derailment, and one of these cars was breached, resulting in a release of vinyl chloride.  A number of local, state, and federal agencies responded to the incident along with the railroad and their emergency response contractors.  A precautionary evacuation was ordered to ensure the safety of the public.

The air has been, and continues to be, tested 24-hours per day throughout the evacuation zone, and in the community outside the evacuation zone. The results of air monitoring indicate that vinyl chloride was initially detected in the immediate area of the leaking railroad car, and at lower levels in the community.  Concentrations of vinyl chloride within the evacuated community were not of immediate health concern, as they were below short-term emergency response guidelines developed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.  

After the initial incident, concentrations of vinyl chloride within the evacuated area have subsided.

The results of outdoor air monitoring within the evacuated area indicate that there are no remaining detectable levels of vinyl chloride. 

When you re-enter your home, you will have the option of being accompanied by environmental professionals who will conduct air testing within your home to ensure that unsafe levels of vinyl chloride are not present in your home.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Is the air safe? 

Yes - Air monitoring results indicate that the air in the community is safe. Before schools are re-opened, the air inside and outside the schools will be tested to confirm that they are safe to enter.  Similarly, upon the homeowner’s request, we can test the air in homes in the area to confirm that they are also safe to re-enter.

2. Is my drinking water safe? 

Yes – Vinyl chloride does not readily dissolve in water. Additionally, due to the location of the derailment it is very improbable that vinyl chloride will impact the groundwater or drinking water wells in the area.  There is no risk if you are on a public water supply. 

3. What about my pets? 

Based on the air monitoring data collected, your pets should not have been affected by the release.  Vinyl chloride has not been measured in the community at concentrations that would be harmful to animals for short-term exposures. 

4. What about my food or my pet’s food?

Food left out during the evacuation would not be affected by the incident and you can safely eat any non-spoiled food that is in your home. Since vinyl chloride is a gas at room temperature, it does not absorb into your food or clothing.  You should, however, follow normal food safety procedures and make sure not to eat any food that has spoiled during the evacuation.

5. Home Furnaces?

It is ok to turn on your furnace and return to normal household activities.  While vinyl chloride is flammable, air monitoring indicates it is no longer present, and therefore it no longer presents any hazard. You also do not have to change your furnace filter unless you want to.

6. What about my house plants and other vegetation?

Vinyl chloride gas, at the levels seen in this incident, is not known to be toxic to plants, and poses no danger to your house plants.  This is also true for trees, shrubs and lawns.

7. Am I at risk for long-term health effects?

No - Short-term exposures to the low levels of vinyl chloride that may have occurred before the evacuation do not present a long-term health risk to residents in the area.  Vinyl chloride is rapidly removed from the body after exposure is over.  

There is no indication that exposures such as those that may have occurred in the evacuated community after the derailment increase the risk of cancer or any other long-term health effects; however, vinyl chloride has been shown to cause cancer in people exposed in the workplace to high concentrations for many years.

8. Will vinyl chloride remain within my home or on my property?

No - Vinyl chloride exists in vapor form in the air.  It evaporates easily and does not absorb into household materials.  Once a house is opened, any vinyl chloride present will rapidly disperse and leave the home.  It is not necessary to undertake any special cleaning of household items.  In addition, vinyl chloride is not known to cause damage to vehicles or structures.

9.  Can vinyl chloride exposure affect my asthma?

Only very high concentrations of vinyl chloride would affect someone’s asthma. Any aggravation of asthma would be short-term since vinyl chloride is quickly cleared from the body. Vinyl chloride is not known to cause asthma.

10.  Is my child going to be safe going back into a house that had vinyl chloride in it? What about the elderly or people with medical conditions?

Everyone is safe to re-enter a home that has been found to be clear and free of any vinyl chloride. Once the air monitoring shows that your home no longer has vinyl chloride in it, it will not re-accumulate from furniture or bedding or carpets. If your home was safe for people with allergies or asthma or other breathing problems before the derailment, it will be safe afterwards.

11.  Will my home smell bad from the vinyl chloride?

No - At no point has air monitoring detected vinyl chloride in the community at levels that would produce a smell.  However, some people notice an odor when re-entering their homes after evacuations due to stale odors of a house that has been sitting undisturbed, closed up tightly, and uninhabited for several days.  If you encounter an odor that concerns you, you can have your home re-tested.

For additional information, call 1-856-599-5154.