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Train Derailment Concerns Linger in West Deptford

One resident speaks out about the timeliness of the township's response, while others praise fire and emergency personnel for their efforts.

Train Derailment Concerns Linger in West Deptford

It happened more than a week ago and in a neighboring town, but the Paulsboro train derailment is still very much on the minds of West Deptford residents.

The Nov. 30 derailment over Mantua Creek released dangerous vinyl chloride into the air, prompting evacuations of hundreds of Paulsboro residents. Although the incident largely had little to no impact on West Deptford, it remained a topic of conversation at recent public meetings.

West Deptford residents—particularly near the White Swan Trailer Park, just a mile from the derailment—have anxiously awaited the results of air tests carried out near the site of the vinyl chloride spill.

At Thursday night's township committee meeting, Police Chief Craig Mangano said that, so far, testing has shown no risk for residents in the area. As of Monday afternoon, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had not provided the official test results to West Deptford Patch.

“So far we've had very minimal impact from the event,” said Mangano.

A resident of White Swan, Josephine Daws, spoke during the public comment portion of Thursday's meeting, upset that it took the township five hours to send out a letter to the residents of the trailer park about the incident. The letter advised residents of White Swan and White Swan East to stay in their homes.

"This is like a pony express way to deliver news," Daws said.

Officials said they wanted to provide accurate information to residents before releasing anything. All of the information had to go through the appropriate chain of command first, Township Administrator Eric Campo explained.

At the township's Emergency Services Coordinating Council meeting on Monday night, Phil Zimm echoed those sentiments. He is chief of Thorofare Volunteer Fire Company and president of the Gloucester County Fire Chiefs Association.

“There were no facts until three to four hours into it that then filtered down to us,” said Zimm. “(Daws) considered it a delay, we consider it having the facts. It wasn't going to come out faster.”

Paulsboro residents have railed against communication breakdowns following the derailment and chemical leak, though those incidents didn’t have a significant impact on West Deptford. Overall, residents seem pleased with the response of West Deptford's fire departments and emergency personnel. Mayor Raymond Chintall recognized this on Thursday, saying, “Residents of West Deptford are being well-served by our employees.”

The hard work was recognized on Monday night as well. During his portion of the emergency services council meeting, Emergency Management Coordinator Joe Gill thanked the fire chiefs for the swift response and hard work in lending a hand to Paulsboro to help deal with the situation. Gill has provided daily command post briefings on the situation as it pertains to West Deptford.

While most evacuated Paulsboro residents could return home this week, the train derailment case is far from over. For one, the train cars are still in the creek.

Mike Nahas, a citizen-at-large on the emergency services council, asked whether West Deptford and surrounding towns will have extra personnel available in case of a major accident while removing the remaining cars from the water. Zimm responded that the command center is monitoring the cleanup, but said that all of the firehouses will be ready if major issues arise that affect West Deptford residents.

Correction: A previous version of this article said that Chuck Weikel made a statement as a citizen-at-large during Monday's emergency services council meeting. The statement was actually made by Mike Nahas.

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