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Sacrifice Zone: Fourth and Long for Paulsboro, NJ

Surrounded by petro-chemical complex, abandoned by government

Complete Breakdown in Democracy and Governing

view from the bleachers at Paulsboro HS – would you want your kid taking a corner kick into that?

In his most recent book “Days of Destruction – Days of Revolt“, Chris Hedges writes about what he calls “sacrifice zones”: (watch Hedges talk in Seattle Town Hall)

those areas of the country that have been offered up for exploitation in the name of profit, progress, and technological advancement. We wanted to show in words and drawings what life looks like when the marketplace rules without constraints, where human beings and the natural world are used and then discarded to maximize profit. We wanted to look at what the ideology of unfettered capitalism means for families, communities, workers, and the ecosystem.

Hedges writes about Pine Ridge South Dakota, Welch West Virginia, Immokalee Florida, and Camden NJ as “sacrifice zones” – and sadly, Paulsboro also in a sacrifice zone.

It’s been almost 4 months since the Toxic Train Wreck forced evacuation of Paulsboro NJ.

Here’s what’s gone on since:

  • The toxic trains have resumed running;
  • the 100 year old bridge that caused the derailment has not been replaced; [update: it took over a year to start construction, but the bridge was replaced.]
  • there have been no improvements to local emergency management programs;
  • there has been no expansion of chemical facility, rail, or air monitoring
  • there has been no enforcement by NJ DEP or US EPA
  • there have been no efforts to strengthen chemical safety laws and regulations
  • Conrail is bribing local residents to waive rights to sue
  • the chemical industry has blackmailed federal and state officials to reopen the rail line

Bascally, nothing has been learned from the accident and no reforms have been enacted.

[Update: The NTSB issued an accident Report in 2014 documenting numerous failures – validating our severe criticism written shortly after the derailment.]

Worse, industry, local and state officials have refused to comment on proposed reforms.

scene of the crime. Rail bridge over 100 years old – millions of pounds of toxic chemicals regularly cross thie bridge.

Where are US Sentators Lautenberg and Mendendez? They should have introduced legislation to close loopholes and ramp up chemical rail safety and strengthen federal laws on the facilities that produce toxic chemicals and discharge millions of pounds of these toxic chemicals to our air, water and land.

Where are the regulators? EPA and DEP have simply abandoned the people of Paulsboro and left their health and safety to the kindness of strangers –  Conrail and the chemical industry.

Where are NJ state legislators, powerful Senate President Sweeney and Assemblyman Burzichelli, in whose district this disaster occurred?

Even local officials are in the tank.

Into this irresponsible industry and government abdication, on March 5, 2013, a group of local residents petitioned the local government (Philly Inquirer):

a Paulsboro citizens group submitted a petition to the Borough Council on Tuesday evening asking it to consider installing at least four air-quality monitors around town, to be paid for by Conrail and local industry.

What was the response of local officials?

“We will take this into consideration,” Mayor W. Jeffery Hamilton said, adding that the council would also forward it to State Senate President Stephen Sweeney and Assemblyman John Burzichelli, both Gloucester County Democrats.

Speaking later, Councilman Alfonso Giampola struck a cautionary note.

Giampola, also Paulsboro’s fire chief, said that equipment that can test for multiple chemicals is expensive and that it was unclear if Conrail and local industries would pay for it.

In a March 20 followup story by the Philadelphia Daily News

Representatives from the Paulsboro Refining Co., which turns crude oil into gasoline, heating oil and jet fuel, did not return requests for comment. ExxonMobil, in a statement, said the company hasn’t been contacted by the committee but said safety is a “core value” at the two facilities the company operates in the Paulsboro area.

Bill Wolfe, head of the New Jersey chapter of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, said he doesn’t think the companies or the state will install air monitors around town.

“They don’t want to open that door, to go for fence-line air monitoring,” said Wolfe, a former DEP employee. “That would open Pandora’s box.”

Neither state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, of neighboring West Deptford, nor Assemblyman John Burzichelli, a former Paulsboro mayor, returned requests for comment.

Elvin Montero, a spokesman for the Chemistry Council of New Jersey, had no comment on the petition, calling it a “local matter.” He said all members of the chemistry council comply with “applicable local, state and federal standards and regulations, and in many cases exceed them.”

A Conrail spokesman said the company “remains committed to working with the city of Paulsboro to address their concerns.” But many residents have complained that Conrail failed to address concerns about the Mantua Creek swing bridge that was built in the late 1800s.

What is going on in Paulsboro is shameful.

And there are growing scores of Paulsboro’s all across NJ – coming to a community near you: “sacrifice zone”.

a few hundred feet from the HS, unsecured chemical rail cars, COIM chemical plant and refinery form a daily toxic nightmare for the people of Paulsboro

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