Most often, hazardous materials are being transported using motor vehicles from one place to another in order to dump them in designated locations. Statistics, for instance, shows that there are “between 250,000 and 500,000 hazmat shipments take place in the United States every day, resulting in an annual total shipment volume of between 1.5 and 4 billion tons” (Erkut, & Verter, 1997, p.625). According to scholars, when this number is placed in perspective, it would amount to one hazmat truck per five trucks travelling in the U.S. highways (Erkut, & Verter, 1997, p.625). Apparently, transporting hazardous materials can be a major environmental concern. For the same reason, most countries have certain regulations regarding the handling of hazardous materials for transport. In the United States, for instance, the transport of hazardous materials is governed by legislations, specifically, federal legislations such as the Hazardous Material Transportation Act of 1975 (HMTA), the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act of 1990 and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Compliance to these legislations is necessary when planning to transport hazardous materials in order to ensure environmental safety. Parties who wish to transport hazardous materials must adhere to these regulations as it is mandatory. This paper would discuss the general regulations as well as the potential risks of transporting hazardous materials particularly using land transport vehicles.
Identification of Hazardous Materials
Different environmental agencies offer their own definition of what hazardous materials mean. However, in terms of identifying hazardous materials for transport, the United States, gives wide discretion to the Secretary of Transportation if the material transported is hazardous or not. Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA) of 1990, for instance, says that “The Secretary shall designate material or a group or class of material as hazardous when the Secretary determines that transporting the material in commerce in a particular amount and form may pose an unreasonable risk to health and safety or property”. Depending on the material, hazmat can be classified into broad categories such as explosives, gases, flammable liquid, flammable solid, oxidizer, etiologic agent, poison, radioactive material, corrosive material, and other hazardous classification as the Secretary of Transportation would designate. Hazmat must be properly identified and labeled according to their classification in order to avoid mix-up and to raise public awareness of the container’s content during transport.
General Land Transport Regulations for Hazardous Materials
In the United States, before hazmat can be transported, concerned parties must first secure a permit as stipulated in the procedures and policies section of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA) of 1990. After which, the hazmat must be placed in a secured container and properly identified using appropriate markings. Packaging is of utmost importance in transporting hazmat. In accordance with the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, hazmat packaging should “be adequate in strength and quality to withstand normal transportation” and “must be compatible with the hazardous material and adequate considering the level of risk presented by the material”. A person is also prohibited to misrepresent the presence of hazmat or alter any hazmat labels. The vehicles used in transporting hazardous materials are also of particular concern during the transport process. As stipulated in the HMTUSA, before any license to operate a motor vehicle in transporting hazmat is issued, the Secretary of Homeland Security must first determine that the individual applying for a license does not pose any security risks. Another important consideration in transporting hazardous materials using land transportation vehicles is the highway routing. According to HMTUSA, “each State and Indian tribe may establish, maintain, and enforce designations of specific highway routes over which hazardous material may and may not be transported by motor vehicle; and limitations and requirements related to highway routing”. This routing initiative apparently aims to minimize casualties or environmental impact in an event where an untoward incident occurs.
Risks of Transporting Hazardous Materials
The risks associated with transporting Hazmat depend on the classification of the material and its potential environmental hazard. Some hazmat, for instance, have toxic or radioactive properties, which, when released to the environment would cause contamination. Some materials are classified as infectious or poisonous, especially those wastes that comes from industrial plants or hospitals. These materials may pose serious health risks if they are not handled properly during transport. There are also some materials that are considered as having explosive properties; some of which have the capacity to cause injury and even death. Hazardous materials should be handled properly in accordance with the law. Among the most common mishandling of hazardous materials as well as their corresponding environmental impact are:
Spills and leakages. This risk is highly probable when liquid and gaseous hazmat is being transported using inferior or even poorly sealed containers. Spillage of hazmat may seep through the soil and contaminate ground water. Hazmat that may excrete fumes may leak and contaminate the atmosphere through evaporation.
Contagion. Poor handling of hazardous materials during transport could result to the contagion of the handlers. This risk is highly probable, especially in handling hospital wastes. Contagious diseases present in hospital wastes may contract to the handlers while transporting such materials.
Explosion. Apparently transporting explosives could pose transport risks. Aside from explosives and munitions, flammable materials can also pose transport risks as they might ignite and cause enormous damage to lives and properties.
Accidents. There are few transport accidents involving hazmat primarily because hazmat carriers are highly trained in handling such materials (Erkut, & Verter, 1997, p.625). But despite the rare occurrence of accidents, it could not be denied that accidents do happen and it can be devastating when the transported items are hazardous materials.
In case any of the risks mentioned above occurred, the HMTUSA requires the carrier to inform the authorities right away in order to create proper intervention and response.
Environmental regulations require that hazardous materials should be managed properly, which includes the proper handling of hazmat when they are being transported. Apparently, the transport of hazardous materials may pose environmental risks if not carried out properly. Among the most common transport risks involving hazmat are spillage or leakages, contagion, explosion or accidents. It should be noted though that the environmental risks depend on the chemical composition of the hazmat. Some hazmat, for instance, are toxic, while others are poisonous, contagious, explosive or radioactive. These environmental hazards are likely to occur if the hazmat is not managed properly during transport as they can contaminate the environment and pose health risks not only to humans, but to the environment as a whole.
Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. (2014). Retrieved January 2016, from http://homer.ornl.gov/: http://homer.ornl.gov/sesa/environment/policy/hmta.html
Erkut, E., & Verter, V. (1997). Modeling of Transport Risk for Hazardous Materials. Retrieved January 2016, from http://pubsonline.informs.org/: http://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/pdf/10.1287/opre.46.5.625
National Weather Service. (2013). Transportation Of Hazardous Materials And Waste. Retrieved January 2016, from http://www.nws.noaa.gov/: http://www.nws.noaa.gov/directives/050/05051016d/pd05051016d_3.pdf
Occupational Safety & Health Administration. (n.d.). Transporting Hazardous Materials. Retrieved January 2016, from www.osha.gov: https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/trucking_industry/transportinghazardousmaterials.html
United States Code. (2011). CHAPTER 51—TRANSPORTATION OF HAZARDOUS MATERIAL. Retrieved January 2016, from https://www.gpo.gov: https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/USCODE-2011-title49/html/USCODE-2011-title49-subtitleIII-chap51.htm