A lawsuit has been filed on behalf of 16 emergency responders seeking compensation and medical monitoring for health concerns stemming from a 2012 train derailment and toxic spill in Paulsboro.
The lawsuit names Conrail, CSX, and Norfolk Southern, which operate a bridge that malfunctioned and caused the accident. It also names the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health, a consulting firm hired to assess medical problems.
A lawyer representing the workers said the firm, hired by the railroad companies, either failed to take urine samples for medical monitoring or lost them.
The train derailed while crossing the East Jefferson Street Bridge, built in 1873, causing more than 20,000 gallons of highly toxic vinyl chloride to spill and spew fumes.
The National Transportation Safety Board issued a report over the summer that placed much blame on the rail company, but also faulted local emergency officials as being ill-prepared.
The agency criticized Conrail for allowing the 82-car freight train to cross the swing-style bridge over the Mantua Creek even though safety locks were not working. The agency also noted that the company did not provide sufficient training for the crew to inspect the locks.
Seven cars derailed, four into the creek, causing one to rupture and leak the vinyl chloride. Nearly 700 residents were evacuated from their homes, and about 30 sought medical attention.
Matthew Weng of the Chance & McCann law firm, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the workers in federal court in Camden, said there were initial conflicting reports about the leak and how dangerous the fumes were, while police, firefighters, and medics responded without proper protection - including masks.
Weng said many experienced burning eyes and respiratory issues that day, while some had increased illnesses in the year that followed. There are also concerns, Weng said, that those who were exposed may face a lifetime of medical issues, including cancers that may develop later in life.
Among the plaintiffs are members of the police departments of Greenwich, Mantua, and Pitman, the Mantua Fire Department, the Gloucester County Sheriff's Office, the county EMS, and Inspira Medical Center Woodbury.
A spokesman for Conrail said the company would respond to the allegations in legal filings. Spokesmen for CSX, Norfolk Southern, and the Center for Toxicology and Environmental Health said they could not comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, filed Nov. 25, is among several filed on behalf of residents, business owners, and first responders. In total, there are about 2,000 plaintiffs. Others signed releases that officials said are likely private settlements. Those settlements are not public.