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Chemical Blackmail In Toxic Train Wreck

Chemical Industry Threatens Plant Shutdowns and Layoffs – Just 2 Days Later, Bridge and Rail Line Reopened Without Safety Reviews or Bridge Replacement

I just learned that the Conrail bridge that caused the toxic train derailment in Paulsboro is open and that trains loaded with chemical cars are again running on the line (see South Jersey Times: Paulsboro trains are back, but how safely?

The SJ Times reports that the line reopened and trains starting running again on Sunday, even before the NTSB “preliminary report” was issued. The NTSB “preliminary report” is a total joke anyway – there are no findings or recommendations, just a less than 1 page description of the accident:

Four trains, the Unified Command said Monday, successfully traversed the bridge between 1:15 p.m. Sunday and 7 a.m. Monday.

The ancient bridge has not been replaced.

There has been no forensic engineering analysis of what caused the accident.

There have been no fines and penalties issued to those that caused this accident.

There have been no chemical safety prevention and emergency planning investigations along the lines that we have requested be conducted by the Coast Guard and US EPA Inspectors General.

The rail line reopening comes just two days after chemical industry spokesmen met with the Unified Command and complained about the pace of cleanup and impacts on their bottom line due to the lengthy rail line closure.

Because of  delays and lengthy closure, which have blocked shipments of products to nearby chemical plants, industry spokesmen threatened to close down NJ chemical plants and lay off workers.

Threats included a possible relocation out of NJ entirely.

On Saturday, December 15, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported on a Friday meeting between industry and the Unified Command:  Paulsboro train wreck backs up businesses along the rail freight line

Two Salem County, N.J., chemical plants that require shipments of vinyl chloride have temporarily shut down as a result of last month’s train derailment in Paulsboro, which spewed the toxic chemical into the air and blocked a critical railroad bridge, a chemical trade association said Friday.

As many as 400 people are employed at the OxyVinyls and PolyOne Corp. plants in Pedrickstown, according to the association. The companies use vinyl chloride to make and distribute products including plastics, pipes, and floor materials. […]

Representatives from about 30 Gloucester County businesses dependent on shipments on the now-closed CSX rail line met Friday with officials from Conrail and the unified command leading the cleanup effort. The companies were eager to learn when trains might again cross the Mantua Creek bridge, where seven cars derailed Nov. 30.

The businesses employ a total of about 5,000 people, a county official said.

Hal Bozarth, NJ's Grandfather of Toxics (Source: Bill Wolfe)

“When the artery is cut, there’s a cascading series of negative events,” said Hal Bozarth, executive director of the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, a trade group whose members include OxyVinyls and PolyOne.

Chemical plants typically stockpile a week’s worth of material, Bozarth said. Sixty trains would ordinarily have passed through Paulsboro in the two weeks since the derailment, he said.

People are waiting for an awful lot of material,” Bozarth said.

Companies that own more than one plant can divert manufacturing when one cannot operate, he said. But any plants that close risk permanently losing product lines, which could give the parent company an excuse to move out of New Jersey.

Heading into the day’s meeting, some expected the rail line to resume operation as early as Monday. There is no alternative rail route, a county official said.

But neither Conrail nor the command, which is led by the Coast Guard, would provide a timeline, said Lisa J. Morina, Gloucester County director of economic development, who attended the meeting. […]

At the meeting, companies expressed concern about how their needs would be prioritized when the CSX line reopens. “Whose product is on what railcar?” Morina asked. “Whose product gets delivered first?

She said the businesses recognized that some were hurting more than others. But Conrail has not communicated its prioritization strategy well, said Steve Chranowski, the Chemistry Council’s director of regulatory affairs.

“These companies are trying to plan. They want to know what’s going on. They were hoping to get answers today. We’re optimistic that no one’s going to have to go off-line,” Morina said.

DuPont has a plant in Pennsville, Salem County, that is drawing on its inventory of materials, company spokesman Nate Pepper said. “It is critical to our business that the rail line to DuPont Chambers Works is reopened as soon as it is safe to do so,” he said.

I think it is outrageous that chemical companies are allowed to pressure government in this way, and threaten to close plants and layoff workers.

The chemical companies are poisoning people, and now they have the audacity to bitch about losing business because of an accident they failed to prevent?

Maybe if the chemical industry and government regulators had been more concerned about lifecycle chemical safety, then this accident might have been prevented.

I find their threats about relocation and plant closure totally outrageous, akin to the NRA holding a pro-gun lobby in Connecticut.

The people of Paulsboro and surrounding towns just dodged a toxic bullet – If there is another accident, someone’s going to jail.

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