Hazardous Materials, continued…
Last month in this space Fire Engineering passed along some comments about hazardous materials from former President Jimmy Carter. Well, that Superfund Legislation is in the news again with the publication by the EPA of a list of 418 most dangerous hazardous waste sites around the country. Forty-four states are represented.
A previous list of 115 sites included 24 that were said to be potentially worse than Love Canal.
A main catalyst leading to the Superfund Legislation was the contamination tragedy at Love Canal in New York. Love Canal became a housing development —after it was a chemical dumping site. Over 43 million pounds of chemical wastes were dumped there and fogotten, for a while.
In Indiana the nation’s biggest voluntary cleanup operation is being discussed. Under an agreement with EPA, 24 companies will pay to remove 60,000 barrels of dangerous chemicals. This will not include the thousands of gallons of chemicals already leaked into the ground.
Most of the current news stories focus on the dangers to nearby residents, but there is more to the story, as any wise fire chief will know.
Those thousands of barrels —and millions more around the country — get to the dumps over public roads. And the risk of accident increases as the number of truckloads increases.
Then the fire department becomes involved. No emergency situation presents a greater danger to personnel.
Some cities and states have attacked the problem of hazardous chemical waste shipments by banning them. In theory it is a good idea. But the shippers all too often just wait until cover of darkness and transport them anyway.
In some cases this is done with official blessing. For example, shipments of nuclear wastes are undertaken in secrecy for security reasons. The secrecy allows shipments to go through any area — even where laws prohibit them. One shipment reported in the Boston Globe traveled through 31 Vermont towns that thought radioactive shipments were effectively banned.
Said the Globe article: “Critics have suggested the cloak of secrecy wrapped around the routing and timing of the shipment by federal regulations — written to ward off saboteurs … — prevents local citizens and officials from knowing a potential catastrophe may be riding through their backyards.”
What to do then? Give more thought to what you might do in the event of a hazardous materials transportation accident. Make sure you have the CF1EMTREC number handy, along with several reference books. Many experts can provide guidance. But you won’t really start to prepare until you start to take the danger seriously. And it is serious indeed!