D.C. imposes 90-day ban on hazmat transport

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The Council of the District of Columbia has banned certain hazmat items from being transported within 2.2 miles of the U.S. Capitol for the next 90 days.

Class 1 explosives, Class 2 flammable gases, Class 2 poisonous gases and Class 6 poisonous materials are all affected by the ordinance.

Carriers seeking to transport these materials must obtain a permit from the district’s Department of Transportation. Permits will be granted only if no viable alternate routes exist.

Commercial trucks can still use the Capital Beltway to skirt the 2.2-mile limit and avoid being forced to obtain a permit. The council’s action is aimed less at trucks than at the CSX Corp.’s freight rail line that passes within four blocks of the Capitol.

In January, the crash of a freight train carrying chlorine gas through Graniteville, S.C., killed nine people, injured 250 and forced the evacuation of 5,000.

The Association of American Railroads said the district’s move did not eliminate the risk but simply moved it to another location.

“Instead of improving public safety, rerouting could in fact degrade it by increasing both handling and the distance hazardous materials must travel,” said Edward Hamberger, president and CEO of the rail association. “It could also send hazardous materials along routes where the emergency response capability is less sophisticated.”

If other communities passed similar bans, Hamberger said, it would be impossible to ship anywhere “the chemicals that purify over half of our nation’s water supply, are involved in the manufacture of lifesaving pharmaceuticals and make products such as the Kevlar vests that protect the men and women in our armed forces.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation also criticized the move, saying in a statement that it “may violate provisions in the U.S. Constitution and federal laws on interstate commerce, the transportation of hazardous materials, and the railroad industry.”