PAULSBORO, N.J. (AP) — Officials lifted a sheltering-in-place order late Monday morning in this community where unsafe levels of a chemical earlier in the day led to the order and calling off school for the day.
The town was essentially closed around 6 a.m. Monday after levels of vinyl chloride in the air spiked, three days after a train carrying the chemical derailed on an old bridge in town.
The lifting of the order meant work could resume on the site of the derailment, people could go outside and businesses could reopen.
U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Kathy Moore said the agencies involved in cleaning up the cars are unsure why the chemical level rose Monday.
She said officials in towns near industrial Paulsboro, just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia International Airport, were put on notice in case the chemical level rises in their communities, too.
She said that sheltering in place was a better move than evacuating Paulsboro because on a day without much wind, the gas stays close to the ground but does not penetrate sealed homes. “We just don’t want people walking around outside,” Moore said.
Work on the cleanup was also halted because of the chemical levels, which were above 1 part per million in the air.
Seven cars on a freight train derailed early Friday as the train passed over a bridge that buckled in 2009. One car carrying vinyl chloride, a gas used to make PVC plastic, ruptured. Dozens of nearby residents were sickened — though none had life-threatening conditions. More than 100 residents were evacuated.
The presence of the chemical, which in high amounts is linked to problems from breathing trouble and dizziness to death, has complicated the cleanup and investigation of what went wrong.
National Transportation Safety Board members have been conducting interviews and reviewing records, but staying away from the site.
Late Sunday, crews began removing the vinyl chloride, which had naturally solidified, from the ruptured tanker. Moore said that work stopped at about 2 a.m. Monday because workers were having trouble reaching the remaining chemical at the bottom of the tanker car.
She said it’s not clear whether the chemical removal is connected to the higher levels found in the air hours later.
The NTSB has said that signal problems were reported at the bridge the day before the derailment.
Some politicians have said the accident points to a bigger problem of heavy trains passing over aging infrastructure.
The low bridge that partially collapsed last week was originally built in 1873.