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Conrail Responds to Paulsboro Lawsuit

The railroad company whose train derailed in southern New Jersey last year has filed a motion to dismiss some claims of local residents and business owners who say in a lawsuit that a cloud of a toxic gas spilled during the accident was so thick “you couldn’t see the person next to you.”

Aerial shot of Paulsboro train derailment
Aerial shot of Paulsboro train derailment (US Coast Guard)

Consolidated Rail Corporation, known as Conrail, filed its motion in U.S. District Court in Camden on Tuesday, four days after a complaint was filed by more than two dozen individuals and business owners. A bevy of lawsuits has been filed over the Nov. 30, 2012, derailment.

The railroad wants the court to dismiss the plaintiffs’ request for future medical monitoring to determine what long-term effects, if any, result from their exposure to vinyl chloride. More than 100,000 pounds of the gas was released when one tanker car ruptured in the derailment. Exposure has been linked to a variety of health problems, from difficulty breathing to liver cancer.

“The entire surrounding neighborhood became engulfed in a toxic cloud of vinyl chloride fumes,” the lawsuit alleges. “Nearby residents described this as a fog so that `you couldn’t see the person next to you.”

Anyone who could smell the vinyl chloride would have been exposed to a concentration up to 3,000 parts per million, far above federal workplace regulations that put limits on employee exposure at 5 ppm for no longer than 15 minutes, according to the lawsuit.

Individuals and owners of businesses including an auto shop, liquor store and convenience store suffered from headaches, dizziness, coughing and other symptoms, the lawsuit claims. The suit seeks a medical monitoring program funded by the defendants to diagnose early signs of any more serious afflictions.

In its filing, Conrail claims the plaintiffs haven’t adequately demonstrated why medical monitoring is needed, but instead merely paraphrased New Jersey law on the issue.

Conrail also moved to dismiss claims of trespass from the vinyl chloride spill, writing that state law doesn’t cover unintentional trespass and the plaintiffs can’t show a tangible impact to their property from the airborne gas.

The lawsuit alleges Conrail was negligent for failing to properly inspect and maintain the bridge, which dates to the 19th century and was the site of a similar derailment in 2009.

At a National Transportation Safety Board hearing in Washington in July, a Conrail engineer said the moveable bridge experienced regular problems with its locking mechanism. The problems increased after Superstorm Sandy decimated the region in late October.

Attorneys for both sides didn’t respond to messages Wednesday.


(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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