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OEM Sees No Long-Term Effects for West Deptford from Derailment

After close monitoring, Joseph Gill says air testing and water testing show no risk following Paulsboro's Conrail train derailment.

When it comes to the Nov. 30 Conrail train derailment in Paulsboro, no news is good news for West Deptford. Following continuous testing in West Deptford, Emergency Management Coordinator Joseph Gill said there are no long-term concerns.

“With the air monitor and water, we do not see any implications as far as long-term effects at all,” said Gill. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency currently has two fixed air testing monitors stationed in West Deptford. One monitor is stationed at Mantua Grove and Crown Point roads, while the other is stationed at NuStar. Since last week, the monitors have been taking air readings throughout the day and providing a live feed of the readings to the Unified Command. 

Gill confirmed the monitor at NuStar initially picked up readings—which were never confirmed as vinyl chloride—but it since has not sent out any readings of elevated chemical levels.

If the fixed air models do detect high readings, portable air testing units will be deployed to the area. If the portable monitors detect elevated readings, Gill would receive a notification directly, which hasn't happened, he said. 

In addition to the notifications, Gill receives a daily briefing from the Coast Guard. West Deptford Police Chief Craig Mangano also receives daily briefings and said he remains in regular contact with schools Superintendent Kevin Kitchenman to keep him abreast of updates and new events.

“We’re keeping a close eye on what’s going on and how it relates to West Deptford,” Mangano said.

Following the derailment, officials also conducted water testing at Mantua Creek by Interstate 295. Testing performed on surface water, water two feet below surface and water near the bottom of the creek all came back as no risk, meaning the readings, based on a percentage or parts per million, did not exceed federal standards on chemical limits. 

Gill attributes West Deptford’s fortune to the wind patterns during the train’s derailment. 

“We were on the opportune side of the wind that day,” Gill said, explaining that the wind blew west on Nov. 30 and pushed any vinyl chloride lingering in the air into Paulsboro and Gibbstown. 

Not every resident considers West Deptford unscathed, however. White Swan resident Josephine Daws told the township committee she wasn't satisfied with the notifications she and other mobile home park residents received. The mobile home park sits less than a mile from the derailment site. 

Gill defended West Deptford's response, saying the notification process went as well as could be expected.

“You can put it on paper, you can train, but when it comes to the incident you have to react,” said Gill. “I think they did a great job based on the incident.”

Gill said all four of West Deptford's fire companies cooperated to notify White Swan and White Swan East residents about the incident in a timely manner. 

The letters, which notified the mobile home park residents to limit their time outdoors as a precaution, were delivered by hand around noon on the day of the derailment, several hours after the incident. The letters went out after an 11 a.m. meeting between Gill and Mayor Raymond Chintall.

Gill said, in retrospect, that there were some “growing pains” to the notification process and vowed to address and correct all criticisms, if necessary. Complaints include several White Swan and White Swan East residents denying they received notifications, plus some residents complaining a reverse emergency call never came. 

But West Deptford officials continue to defend the response overall. After Daws referred to the letter delivery as "the pony express" and expressed concern there was a chemical cloud over West Deptford after the derailment, Mangano said it was actually fog in the air.

“You were never in danger at the time. If you were, you would have heard from us,” Mangano said. 

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