The first lawsuit has been filed over the recent derailment of a freight train in South
Jersey that caused toxic materials to be spewed into a water way, and led to the evacuation of many residents and business owners in the town of Paulsboro, located just over the Delaware River from Delaware County, Pa.
Attorneys with the firm Williams Cuker Berezofsky and the Cedar Law Firm filed suit in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court Dec. 12 on behalf of 54 Paulsboro residents over allegations that they suffered injuries resulting from the release of vinyl chloride that occurred during the early morning train derailment on Nov. 30.
The numerous plaintiffs allege that they sustained respiratory and bronchial related illnesses, headaches, eye and skin irritations and other symptoms as a result of the release of the vinyl chloride, which is a highly toxic chemical.
Chemicals in at least one of the four train cars operated by CSX were released into the surrounding environment, engulfing the neighborhood surrounding the Conrail-operated train tracks, when the train derailed while crossing a bridge owned and operated by Conrail, the plaintiffs’ attorneys contend in the civil filing.
Both CSX and Conrail are named as defendants in the litigation.
“The lawsuit seeks medical screening for early detection of serious and life threatening medical conditions linked to vinyl chloride exposure, as well as compensation for the significant disruption of daily life this community has experienced,” Esther Berezofsky, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys from Williams Cuker Berezofsky, said in a statement.
New Jersey media reported that on the day of the incident, more than 200 residents were evacuated from the area surrounding the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, which is located in Gloucester County, N.J.
Seven of the 84 train cars on a Conrail freight derailed, and the Jefferson Street Bridge over the creek collapsed, sending four tanker cars into the water way and releasing the toxic vinyl chloride at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 30, according to the complaint and local media accounts.
Vinyl chloride is a gas that is used in the manufacture of PVC plastic materials, which can be used to make piping and other products.
The train derailment made national news.
The National Transportation Safety Board and others have been investigating the cause of the incident.
As for the civil suit, the plaintiffs allege that the Jefferson Street Bridge on which the freight train was traveling at the time had a “significant history of failure.”
A similar collapse occurred in the summer of 2009, the suit states, and trains cannot safely cross the bridge, which was built around 1873, unless they alight and lock with the adjacent rails before any trains are allowed to cross the span.
This year alone, the complaint alleges, the defendants, CSX and Conrail, received at least 23 “trouble tickets” reporting that the bridge had malfunctioned.
Just eight hours prior to the incident, the suit says, another train crew reported to the defendants that the bridge had malfunctioned and failed to operate properly.
“In spite of this litany of problems with the bridge, Defendants continued to use the bridge for freight trains of 80 cars or more transporting hazardous and toxic chemicals through a populated ares,” the lawsuit reads.
After the derailment occurred, neighborhood residents reported fog filling the air that was so thick “you couldn’t see the person next to you,” the suit states.
The cause of the fog-like haze was vinyl chloride, which the lawsuit describes as “flammable, explosive and a known human carcinogen which has been specifically linked to angio sarcoma of the liver and hepatocellular carcinoma, acro-osteolysis and Raynaud’s Syndrome in humans.”
The chemical has also been linked to lung cancer, brain cancer and other malignancies, the suit claims.
“Acute exposure to vinyl chloride adversely affects the central nervous system causing dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, giddiness, loss of consciousness, lung and kidney irritation and inhibition of blood clotting,” the suit adds.
As a result of the toxic spill, more than 60 people had to be treated at a local hospital, and hundreds, if not thousands, had to be evacuated from the area, the complaint alleges.
“Reports indicate that efforts to remove the vinyl chloride from the remaining rail cars have not been completed and that elevated readings of vinyl chloride were detected for at least five days after the incident,” the lawsuit states.
Conrail and CSX are accused of negligence for failing to properly inspect and maintain the Jefferson Street Bridge, failing to take proper action in response to numerous complaints about the bridge, permitting a train carrying hazardous chemicals to cross the bridge, failing to perform required quarterly inspections of the bridge, failing to warn people living and working in the area around the bridge that a dangerous substance was being transported across the span, and other acts of alleged negligence.
The complaint also contains counts of medical monitoring, nuisance, and trespass.
The 54 plaintiffs comprise both adults and minors.
The lawsuit seeks both compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $50,000, plus interest and costs.
On the same day the suit was filed in Philadelphia’s Common Pleas Court, a defense attorney, Paul F. Gallagher, filed notice with the court that he intends to remove the action to the U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, according to the docket sheet in the case.
The case ID number is 121201490.