70+ treated after gas leak from derailed NJ train

December 1, 2012 5:56:19 AM PST
More than 70 people have been seen at local hospital, many of them complaining of breathing problems, burning eyes or scratchy throats after a southern New Jersey train derailment released a hazardous gas into the air.

A spokeswoman for Underwood-Memorial Hospital in Woodbury says 11 of the patients came in by ambulance after the derailment on a rail bridge in Paulsboro on Friday. The rest walked in.

Most of the patients have been discharged, but one of them returned to the hospital in stable condition.

Chairman Deborah Hersman says seven cars derailed; one of them released vinyl chloride.

Residents in the area were put on alert, many of them asked to leave the area. And now there is concern for the potential health effects of the chemical involved.

As people came into the hospital Friday, they went through "decontamination." This is standard protocol for emergency rooms when patients have been exposed to a toxic chemical.

People coming in had to remove their clothes and the clothes were bagged up; this is to ensure the exposure to Vinyl chloride is stopped. It can cause irritation and frostbite to the skin.

But the bigger issue is the fumes being inhaled, and that seems to be what happened to some people who were treated at the hospital Friday morning.

Vinyl chloride is a colorless chemical. It is toxic and flammable. It is said to have a sickly, sweet odor, but just because you can't smell it, doesn't mean it is not there.

Dozens of people went to local hospitals Friday, many complaining of nausea, headaches and breathing difficulties.

Other short-term health effects include dizziness, sleepiness, and in cases where a lot of fumes are inhaled at once, it can knock someone unconscious.

Long-term effects include: nerve damage, liver damage, and liver cancer. This can happen if someone is exposed to Vinyl Chloride over a long period of time.

Officials are saying that the area is now safe, but as they start cleaning up the area, it could kick up more fumes. They say they will continue to monitor the air quality.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating the accident.


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