On November 30, 2012, at approximately 7:00 am, a freight train derailed near a small town in New Jersey. Four tank cars, including a breached tank car carrying vinyl chloride, landed in a tidal creek. Vinyl chloride, a colorless gas with a mild, sweet odor, is used in plastics manufacture. Acute exposure can cause respiratory irritation and headache, drowsiness, and dizziness; chronic occupational exposure can result in liver damage, accumulation of fat in the liver, and tumors (including angiosarcoma of the liver) (1). Because health effects associated with acute exposures have not been well studied, the New Jersey Department of Health requested assistance from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and CDC. On December 11, teams from these agencies deployed to assist the New Jersey Department of Health in conducting an assessment of exposures in the community as well as the occupational health and safety of emergency personnel who responded to the incident. This report describes the results of the investigation of emergency personnel. A survey of 93 emergency responders found that 26% of respondents experienced headache and upper respiratory symptoms during the response. A minority (22%) reported using respiratory protection during the incident. Twenty-one (23%) of 92 respondents sought medical evaluation. Based on these findings, CDC recommended that response agencies 1) implement the Emergency Responder Health Monitoring and Surveillance (ERHMS) system (2) for ongoing health monitoring of the emergency responders involved in the train derailment response and 2) ensure that in future incidents, respiratory protection is used when exposure levels are unknown or above the established occupational exposure limits.
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