Fifty-two Paulsboro residents filed a lawsuit against Conrail and its parent companies today, seeking compensation and medical surveillance after freight cars fell into Mantua Creek Nov. 30.

One of the cars released toxic vinyl chloride into the atmosphere and caused many in the town to evacuate. The plaintiffs have suffered from chest pains and coughing fits as a result of their exposure to the hazardous chemical, and they fear they may contract more serious illnesses in the future, according to the suit.

Two other suits were filed last month against Conrail, CSX Corp. and Norfolk Southern Corp.

The new civil complaint was filed in Superior Court in Gloucester County by the Lieberman and Blecher law firm of Princeton. It alleges the train crossed over the bridge even though a red light ahead signaled for it to stop. The engineer operating the train inspected the condition of the bridge and contacted a dispatcher in Mount Laurel, who concluded it was safe to proceed.

The decision to cross the bridge was negligent, the suit claims, particularly because the bridge "had been repeatedly malfunctioning for at least one year" prior to the derailment. It alleges that Conrail "put safety aside for the sake of profit."

The suit also alleges that untrained emergency responders wrongly allowed nearby residents to "proceed through the toxic cloud" created by the vinyl chloride.

The suit also includes the engineer of the train and a dispatcher in Mount Laurel as defendants. They are unnamed in the complaint.

-Andrew Seidman