Work crews used a 150-ton crane Tuesday to remove a tank car that was breached and leaked its toxic contents when it fell into the Mantua Creek off a failed Conrail bridge in Paulsboro on Nov. 30.
The car, one of four that ended up in the water and the first to be retrieved, was carrying vinyl chloride in liquid form, some of which escaped into the air as a gas and forced the evacuation of hundreds of nearby residents for days.
Cleanup crews finally removed the chemical from the car a week ago, and most of the evacuees were allowed to return Friday after officials determined that the air in the area was no longer contaminated. Vinyl chloride is used to make plastic and vinyl products.
Speaking at a community meeting later Tuesday, Coast Guard Capt. Kathy Moore, who is in charge of the cleanup, said the car was placed on a nearby barge. Moore said she hoped the workers would remove the next car, which she described as the "most challenging logistically," by Friday.
Two of the derailed cars that remain in the waterway contain vinyl chloride, and one contains ethanol.
But even as workers made progress toward cleaning up the wreckage, Paulsboro residents expressed lingering frustration and fears to officials, including those from Conrail and the state Departments of Health and Environmental Protection.
They chided the officials for what they said were insufficient communication and poor organization, and expressed concerns about how exposure to vinyl chloride might affect their families' health.
"It was your negligence that poisoned people in this town," Jim McGovern, a registered nurse, told a Conrail official during the meeting at Paulsboro High School.
One resident told officials that his daughter had been bleeding and his son wheezing.
"What is going to be done? Who's responsible, and when will you take responsibility?" he asked.
As Joe Eldridge, director of the state Department of Health, responded, the resident interrupted him and Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton asked him to stop.
"You work for me! Don't rush me," the man retorted.
The angry interjection, among others, echoed residents' feelings during a similar town hall meeting held last week in Gibbstown.
Still, the mood of the Paulsboro residents Tuesday was generally tempered compared with last week, when officials got an earful from both those who were evacuated and those who weren't.
The evacuees were angry that officials could not tell them when they could return home, and those who were allowed to remain in their houses worried that they were being exposed to a hazardous chemical.
Eldridge said representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention would come to Paulsboro on Wednesday, and later in the week would begin administering a survey to residents to assess health effects.