The Worst U.S. Chemical Disasters Caused by Train Derailments

Officials examine a derailed car in Paulsboro on November 30, 2012.

Officials examine a derailed car in Paulsboro on November 30, 2012.
Photo: Mel Evans (AP)

The accident most similar to what’s happening now in Ohio occurred in November 2012, when a train owned by Conrail derailed over a bridge, causing four rail cars to fall into the Mantua Creek in Paulsboro, New Jersey. One of the cars contained some 23,000 gallons of vinyl chloride—the same chemical released in East Palestine—and a tank was breached, causing the chemical to spill into the air and surrounding waterways. Hundreds of residents were evacuated, and dozens sought medical treatment after the exposure.

In 2014, the New Jersey Department of Health issued a report surveying the impacts of the spill on nearly 2,000 residents’ health, finding that one in 10 people in the survey sought treatment for symptoms including headaches, nose and throat irritation, coughing, respiratory issues, dizziness, and nausea.

“It is not known whether there could be long-term, non-cancer harmful health effects from the exposure to vinyl chloride that occurred in Paulsboro,” the report stated. “However, medical management guidelines from [the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry] indicate that such effects are unlikely in persons who recovered from their symptoms.”

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