By Tim Jimenez and Elizabeth Hur
GIBBSTOWN, N.J. (CBS) - Paulsboro residents met with local, state and federal officials at a sometimes contentious open house information session Wednesday night, nearly one week since a train derailment and chemical leak shook up the borough.
On this chilly night, hundreds of Paulsboro residents, some who had been evacuated, others just concerned with the length of the cleanup and their health going forward, gathered in the gym at Nehaunsey Middle School in Gibbstown.
“I know you have questions!” yelled U.S. Coast Guard Captain Kathy Moore. She had been yelling because the microphone had been cutting in and out, which irritated the crowd. Many were not pleased with how long they had been out of their homes but Moore tried to tell them their safety was most important.
“We are going to wait until all of the readings of vinyl chloride are zero before we lift the evacuation. We are going to work with you to check your homes if you’ve been evacuated so you’re confident you can safely return to your home,” Moore said.
“I want to know what the real health hazards are, what the real chemical readings are,” said Mark Wileczek, a resident who had to leave his home last week. He says he lives three blocks away from the accident site.
Linda Dunn of Paulsboro said, “Governor Christie, where are you? You want the vote of this town, you better get down here because you’re making these people feel less than nothing by not showing up.”
According to the governor’s office, Governor Chris Christie will travel to Washington D.C. on Thursday for a series of meetings related to Hurricane Sandy recovery. In his place, Acting Governor Kim Guadagno and Cabinet officials are scheduled to be in Paulsboro at 2pm for a site tour.
Some residents called that an insult.
“I think the people here deserve to know that right now their public health is good. They are in good shape. The air levels, the samples are very low. The water sampling shows very little impact at all,” explained Larry Ragonese, a spokesman with the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Officials tried to stress that, even though the vinyl chloride may have caused some short-term symptoms in some people such as coughing, nausea or light-headedness, there would be no long-term health effects. That answer did not satisfy some residents’ concerns, but others like Barry Corradetti, who did not have to leave his home, said he was satisfied with the answers he received.
“My concern is long-term. But I talked to the DEP and they kind of assured me that this chemical likes to be in the vapor form and once it gets in the atmosphere it dissipates very quickly,” he said. “I understand people are concerned but I think people also have to realize we live in a refinery town. There’s good and bad – give and take. Things don’t always go the way you plan.”
Coast Guard officials say they, at this point, they can’t see evacuated residents back in their homes until Sunday at the earliest.