A coalition of community, environment and labor groups is banding together and calling on federal officials to do more to ensure safety at chemical plants across New Jersey and the nation.

David Matthau, Townsquare Media NJ

The Coalition to Prevent Chemical Disasters traveled to Newark on Thursday to testify during a government-sponsored listening session.

"Chemical facilities and chemical accidents are threatening the public today," said Coalition coordinator Jen Kim, who is also director of the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group. "We can't wait for another disaster to take action."

She said a string of deadly chemical accidents, in New Jersey and across the country, has put the public on high alert.

"New maps created by the Center for Effective Government show in New Jersey there are 68 schools within just one mile of a dangerous chemical facility," Kim said. "If there were a spill or accident at these facilities, there would be 34,641 students potentially put in danger."

Trisha Sheehan and her family live in Woodbury. That's right next to Paulsboro, where a train derailment 15 months ago released more than 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride into the air. So Sheehan knows all about the dangers of chemical accidents.

When the derailment took place, the so-called experts assured her there wasn't a problem and that everyone was safe.

"However, my family was very sick," Sheehan said. "We were vomiting, our eyes were watering and it felt like there was a band around our head, the pain was so severe."

She later found out the equipment being used to test the air in her neighborhood was faulty.

"Cancer is big on my mind, and whether or not we will end up with the rare form of liver cancer that vinyl chloride causes," Sheehan said. "I shouldn't have to worry about my 3-year-old getting cancer from a chemical that was released nearby that he breathed in, in his own home."

To read NJPIRG's news release on Thursday's event, click here.

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