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Reports Show that Safety Checks are Rarely Conducted on Hazardous Materials Shipments

Local news stories have reported that the US Department of Transportation never conducted required safety inspections on thousands of companies that received special permits to transport risky shipments of hazardous materials by road, rail, water and air. According to reports, some companies that received permits have had serious hazardous materials accidents or safety violations.

One company, for example, got a special permit to haul a poisonous and flammable ammonia solution despite having 14 hazardous materials spills in the last four years.

From a USA Today report:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Transportation Department never conducted required safety checks on 20,000 to 30,000 companies that got special permits to move risky shipments of hazardous materials by road, rail, water and air, records show.

Starting this month, DOT will require all the companies to file new permit applications and undergo a “fitness review,” including assessments of their safety and security records, before the permit is issued, according to an agency plan. The special permits allow holders to move hazardous loads that normally are barred, such as mixed cargos of flammable, toxic or caustic compounds.

By law, DOT must evaluate the fitness of every company given a special permit, but it has issued dozens of blanket permits over the last decade to industry trade groups. The thousands of companies using those permits were not vetted by DOT, which doesn’t even know all their identities.

Permit holders range from one-truck pool services carrying chlorine to national firms that package or ship bulk loads of explosive, flammable or toxic cargo.

Failing to vet every permit holder is “completely inappropriate — it never should have happened,” Cynthia Quarterman, then chief of DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, has said in testimony to Congress. According to the most in-depth report on the subject, from USA Today, in a recent five-year period there were almost 2500 “serious” hazardous materials spills that involved substantial spills of hazardous materials and/or resulted in serious injuries or evacuations.