When a train car derailment resulted in a spill of dangerous chemicals into the air and waterways, first responders sought to protect surrounding individuals through evacuations and other safety measures.
But those first responders, which included dozens of firefighters, now say they weren’t adequately equipped with the devices necessary to respond to the accident effectively. In particular, responders say they had inoperable monitoring devices that couldn’t detect the extent of the area’s exposure to vinyl chloride, the toxic chemical spilled in the wreck.
Even worse, firefighters are pointing to this situation as just the most recent example of a years-long failure to adequately address emergency preparedness scenarios overseen by the county. In response to the poor commitment, a number of firefighters promptly resigned from the county’s hazardous-materials team in the following days.
Scientists insist that even they can’t be sure what vinyl chloride levels in the air environment are dangerous, although that doesn’t override the failure of the devices and the potential dangers of poor equipment.
An investigation is currently ongoing with the New Jersey Department of Health.
Not only does the lack of proper equipment raise concerns about the safety of the community, but it also endangers the lives of first responders who aren’t being outfitted in ways to provide them the highest degree of safety.
In total, 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride were spilled into the environment following the wreck, which occurred in November. Now first responders and other safety officials are reviewing the aftermath of the accident to determine what procedural changes and other systemic problems need to be addressed to improve the response to future accidents.
Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, “Some responders say Gloucester County was unprepared for Paulsboro chemical emergency,” Andrew Seidman, Dec. 25, 2012