Exposures and symptoms among workers after an offsite train derailment and vinyl chloride release


  • Jason A. Wilken, PhD
  • Leah Graziano, BS
  • Elena Vaouli, MPH
  • Karl Markiewicz, PhD
  • Robert Helverson, MSEP
  • Kimberly Brinker, MSN, MPH




chemical hazard release, vinyl chloride, workplace


Objective: In 2012 in New Jersey, a train derailment resulted in the puncture of a tanker car carrying liquid vinyl chloride under pressure, and a resulting airborne vinyl chloride plume drifted onto the grounds of a nearby refinery. This report details the investigation of exposures and symptoms among refinery workers.

Design and setting: The investigation team met with refinery workers to discuss their experience after the derailment and provided workers a self-administered survey to document symptoms and worker responses during the incident. Associations among categorical variables and experiencing symptoms were evaluated using Fisher’s exact test.

Participants: Twenty-six of 155 (17 percent) workers present at the refinery or driving on the access road the date the spill occurred completed the survey.

Main outcome measure(s): Any self-reported symptom following exposure from the vinyl chloride release.

Results: Fifteen workers (58 percent) reported 1 symptom, most commonly headache (12, 46 percent). Three (12 percent) reported using respiratory protection. No differences in reporting symptoms were observed by location during the incident or by the building in which workers sheltered. Workers who moved from one shelter to another during the incident (ie, broke shelter) were more likely to report symptoms (Fisher’s exact test, p = 0.03); however, there are only limited data regarding vinyl chloride concentrations in shelters versus outside.

Conclusions: Breaking shelter might result in greater exposures, and managers and health and safety officers of vulnerable facilities with limited physical access should consider developing robust shelter-in-place plans and alternate emergency egress plans. Workers should consider using respiratory protection if exiting a shelter is necessary during a chemical incident.

Author Biographies

Jason A. Wilken, PhD

Epidemic Intelligence Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia; California Department of Public Health, Richmond, California; CDC’s Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response, Atlanta, Georgia.

Leah Graziano, BS

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Edison, New Jersey

Elena Vaouli, MPH

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Edison, New Jersey

Karl Markiewicz, PhD

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.


Robert Helverson, MSEP

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Kimberly Brinker, MSN, MPH

Epidemic Intelligence Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Georgia; CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, Atlanta, Georgia


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New Jersey Department of Health: Health Consultation: Air Quality in Paulsboro, New Jersey Following a Train Derailment and Vinyl Chloride Gas Release. Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Department of Health, 2014. Available at http://www.nj.gov/health/ceohs/documents/pau/air_quality_report.pdf. Accessed July 6, 2015.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR): Toxicological Profile for Vinyl Chloride. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, 2006. Available at http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp.asp?id=282&tid=51. Accessed May 29, 2014.

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How to Cite

Wilken, PhD, J. A., L. Graziano, BS, E. Vaouli, MPH, K. Markiewicz, PhD, R. Helverson, MSEP, and K. Brinker, MSN, MPH. “Exposures and Symptoms Among Workers After an Offsite Train Derailment and Vinyl Chloride Release”. American Journal of Disaster Medicine, vol. 10, no. 2, June 2015, pp. 153-65, doi:10.5055/ajdm.2015.0198.