But last week it was discovered that the rail line, also known as the CSX Railroad, Inc., has become a storage facility for potentially dangerous chemicals - chemicals that could result in deaths if it is mixed with water.
According to officials, chemicals like phosphorus pentasulfide and chlorine were located in approximately 80 storage tanks in the township off the CSX rail line.
Several officials got together Wednesday morning in the North Bergen Board of Commissioners' chambers to discuss the dilemma that became evident by coincidence.
On Thursday, July 7, North Bergen police had been called to 5800 West Side Ave. to answer a report of a foul odor coming from the site. Immediately, health officials were summoned to the site - and when they arrived, they noticed the tanks in clear view.
"We noticed several large containers, about 80 or so, each weighing about 7,000 pounds," North Bergen Health Director Richard Censullo said. "Once we noticed that the tanks contained phosphorus pentasulfide, we knew that it was a very serious situation. We also noticed three larger tanker rail cars filled with chlorine. This was also potentially dangerous."
In the tanks Immediately, Censullo notified the Hudson Regional Health Commission, which sent investigators to the site to check out the tanks.
According to HRHC program coordinator James Monkowski, phosphorus pentasulfide is used in the production of high-end lubricants, like motor oil, to be used on cars and trucks, as well as the manufacturing of insecticides.
However, the chemical poses serious concerns.
Phosphorus pentasulfide is reactive and combustible. It is easily ignited by heat, sparks or friction, and also catches fire when in contact with other acids, water, or moist air. When it catches fire, conventional firefighting methods, such as water, cannot be used, because contact with water produces a highly poisonous gas called hydrogen sulfide.
The containers can also explode and cause severe fire damage.
According to the guidelines established by the New Jersey Department of Health in regards to hazardous substances, phosphorus pentasulfide can cause damage if inhaled and could cause severe burns to the skin and eyes if in contact. High exposure to the chemical could result in the loss of smell. It could also irritate the lungs and cause coughing, a shortness of breath and possibly pulmonary edema, which is a buildup of fluid in the lungs and potentially fatal.
Exposure could also cause headaches, dizziness, weakness, confusion, sweating, nausea and vomiting. High levels could result in seizures and death.
Needless to say, the railroad issue in North Bergen had become life and death.
Highly toxic John Demjanick, another program coordinator for the HRHC, investigated the site.
"These are very toxic chemicals and emit poisonous gases when wet," Demjanick said.
"It emits a dangerous vapor that would have faced us with the possibility of an evacuation of an area of five square miles," Censullo said. "That covers all of North Bergen and into parts of neighboring communities like Secaucus."
Demjanick said that he spoke with some railroad police, but no one could determine why the chemicals were there.
"But these chemicals are hazardous, and it was disturbing that no one was there," Demjanick said. "There was no security. Anyone could have walked right up to them."
That was also evident Wednesday afternoon, when a reporter was able to drive his vehicle right next to the tanks to take pictures. No one was present to stop the vehicle from entering the site.
Demjanick found that the company leasing the site, Bulldog Lines, Inc. of Carlstadt, was a trucking firm that was hired to transport the tanks from the North Bergen facility to the Exxon refinery headquarters in Linden.
Demjanick said that Bulldog had been transporting the tanks to Linden for the last three years and that they did not have a single problem during that time.
However, the delivery firm had no equipment handy for transporting hazardous materials, officials said.
Calls to Bulldog Lines' owner Paul Jones went unreturned by press time Thursday.
Not equipped for problem Demjanick said that the chemical did pose a severe problem in case of a fire and that the area was not equipped to handle the possible disaster.
"The only way to put out a fire with this chemical is either with a drying chemical or sand," Demjanick said.
"There's also the possibility of an acid plume forming, which would be extremely dangerous."
North Hudson Regional Fire & Rescue Co-Director Mike DeOrio expressed his concerns about having the chemical stored in his jurisdiction.
"I'm disappointed because we were not made aware of this situation," DeOrio said. "We were not aware that anyone was storing a chemical like this here. We would probably only been made aware when an incident would take place. Then, we have to come on board. But we were never notified.
Added DeOrio, "And the chemicals are supposed to be stored in concrete places, where they're safe. These have been just left there, unprotected. I saw a passenger van in there. If he backs up into it and causes a spill, we have a major problem. It would cause many people to get sick. I don't know of any fire department that could handle this situation. You would need vacuums to pick up the materials and transport it away. There's nothing our department could do if this went on fire."
North Bergen Mayor Nicholas Sacco, who has been fighting diligently to try to stop the dumping along the rail lines, said that this latest obstacle puts the entire process in a different light.
"This is something that caught us totally off-guard," Sacco said. "We had no idea that this was happening here. To have something of this substance in this area, either transporting this substance or leaving this substance in broad daylight with no regulation is wrong. It's almost to the point where they're saying, 'We own the land, we have no zoning laws or regulations, so we can do whatever we want.' It's become a much larger problem that dumping trash. Now, it's a toxic problem."
New Jersey Meadowlands Commission Executive Director Robert Ceberio said that his association is now looking into every legal angle to have this deadly chemical removed from the area.
"We're going to seek an injunction in Superior Court to have them stop this operation, because we're not so sure this is an operation of the railroad," Ceberio said. "These people are willing to risk the lives of the people of North Bergen just to make a few dollars. ...It's unfortunate that it's difficult to move forward because of the federal laws, but we have to use every means possible to have this stop. This is a chemical storage facility. It is a very unique situation, because no one knew it was there."
Ceberio said that the legal department of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission is writing a cease and desist order to Bulldog Lines to stop the practice immediately. The NJMC will also prepare an injunction to the Hudson County Superior Court, arguing that Bulldog is not an element or an agent of railroad transportation and should have come to local authorities for zoning approval.
"We're going to fire the first salvo," Ceberio said.