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Atlantic Strike Team (AST) | Response Highlight

AST Heads Down The Tracks


Story by Leutenant Annjea Cormier
Atlantic Strike Team
National Strike Force

In the early hours of Friday, November 30th, a train carrying hazardous materials derailed on the East Jefferson Street Railroad Bridge, which crosses over Mantua Creek near Paulsboro, NJ, causing four derailed train cars to fall into Mantua Creek.  Three of the cars were carrying vinyl chloride, a product used to make PVC pipes, and the fourth car contained ethanol.
One of the train cars carrying vinyl chloride was damaged during the derailment and released some of the product from a large breach in the car’s hull into the community. Local officials issued a shelter in place shortly after the incident, followed by an evacuation order for 12 city blocks threatened by the vinyl chloride.
Within an hour of the incident, Sector Delaware Bay requested the Atlantic Strike Team, and a three-person assessment team immediately deployed to assist in the response to this complex incident.  The National Strike Force Public Information Assist Team also deployed to manage the high demands for information from the public and media.
A Unified Command comprised of officials from the Coast Guard, New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, New Jersey Office of Emergency Management, Paulsboro Fire Department, and Conrail, the responsible party, was established at an incident command post in nearby Clarksboro. Throughout the response the focus of the Unified Command was on the safety of responders and the public alike.
"Our priority remains the safety of everyone involved - members of the community, federal, state, and local officials, and the work crews and technical experts on site at the derailment,” said Capt. Kathy Moore, the Coast Guard Federal On Scene Coordinator and member of the Unified Command.
The Atlantic Strike Team assisted throughout the response by providing technical experts, on site safety monitoring, and air monitoring aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Cleat, which was enforcing a safety zone at the mouth of Mantua Creek.
After the air monitoring levels indicated it was safe to proceed, contractors conducted initial assessments on the breached vinyl chloride railcar to determine how much product remained. The breached railcar was then filled with an acetone mix, which rendered the vinyl chloride non-toxic and safer for removal.  Additionally, divers and sonar equipment conducted inspections in order to determine the other cars’ structural integrity.

1st photo of AST members a railroad derailment site Ed Primeau, a safety officer for the East Jefferson Street Bridge Derailment response site, speaks with Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Foster, from the Coast Guard's Atlantic Strike Team, at the incident site, Monday, Dec. 10, 2012. Response crews are working at the site to clear debris in preparation to remove rail cars from Mantua Creek. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Cynthia Oldham.


During the response, the Atlantic Strike Team’s and the Public Information Assist Team’s expertise in hazardous substance releases, incident management skills, and crisis communication assisted the Unified Command with critical decisions including ensuring the safety of the responders. 
“Any responder going in the hot zone was required to be fit tested with an Air Purifying Respirator in the event of a vinyl chloride release,” said Ed Primeau, a safety officer from the Atlantic Strike Team who was responsible for overseeing on scene operations. “Most Coast Guard personnel are not normally enrolled in a respiratory protection program. Therefore, Atlantic Strike Team personnel were able to enter the exclusion zone to monitor ongoing operations.”

2nd photo of AST members a railroad derailment siteResponse crews work to remove a section of the East Jefferson Street Bridge Monday, Dec. 10, 2012, in Paulsboro, N.J. On-scene responders have been working to remove debris from the site in order to create the safest possible working environment to begin rail car removal operations. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew Foster



Once deemed safe, a 150-ton crane brought in from New York lifted each of the rail cars out of Mantua Creek. The last car was removed Dec. 17, and the bridge has since re-opened to train traffic.
“I am truly thankful for the efforts of the nearly 250 professionals who contributed their expertise, commitment and hard work to this operation,” said Moore, in a Dec. 17th press release. “They … worked around the clock since Nov. 30 to help ensure the safety of Paulsboro residents and get these rail cars out of the water.”


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Last Modified 1/12/2016