More than 100 people, including first responders, children and property owners have filed a lawsuit for injuries and damages following the tanker train derailment in Paulsboro, New Jersey November 30, 2012.

A 150-ton crane from Weeks Marine, Inc., is positioned by response crews at the site of the Paulsboro train derailment (US Coast Guard)

The case, Spears et al v. Conrail et al, was filed this morning in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia.  Kyle Spears is an East Greenwich police officer who responded to the 911 calls after the derailment and was exposed throughout the day as he performed first responder duties.  He is the first-named plaintiff in the lawsuit.

The suit claims that when the derailment occurred, Conrail representatives advised first responders that they did not need breathing masks or other protective equipment, despite high readings of vinyl chloride in the air.  Spears and other plaintiffs spent a number of hours in the so-called "hot zone" during the immediate aftermath of the chemical spill.

When the several tanker cars fell from the bridge over the Mantua Creek, a chemical cloud spread across Paulsboro and beyond.  All of the plaintiffs claim that they inhaled significant quantities of vinyl chloride, which was released into the air from one of the damaged cars.

"The November 30th derailment was no accident," said Aaron Freiwald, lead trial counsel for the plaintiffs.  "Defendants knew that the bridge was not safe for rail traffic involving highly dangerous chemicals.  There was complete disregard for the health and safety of those living in and around Paulsboro and now we are asking these companies to pay for the damage they have done."

A spokesman from Conrail said, "We will respond to the allegations in this lawsuit at an appropriate time and through our legal filings."

Defendants in the case include CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway and Conrail, which owned the bridge and operated the train.  OxyVinyls, LP is alleged to be responsible for the vinyl chloride that spilled.

"These are factory workers, engineers, police officers, school kids and their moms, dads and grandparents.  And none of them should have been put through the physical and emotional hell these companies have put them through," said Scott McKinley, co-counsel for the Plaintiffs.