U.S. House bill would route worst hazmat away from cities

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A U.S. House member has re-introduced a bill that would strengthen security requirements for shipments of the most hazardous materials.

U.S. Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., introduced the Extremely Hazardous Materials Transportation Security Act on March 17. U.S. Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., will introduce a similar bill in the Senate, according to Markey’s website.

The legislation would require the Department of Homeland Security to route around densely populated areas any materials that are toxic by inhalation, highly flammable or highly explosive – if a safer route is available.

“Across the country, enough chlorine to kill 100,000 people in half an hour is routinely contained in a single rail tanker car that rolls right through crowded urban centers without adequate security protections,” Markey said in a statement. “The industry, with the encouragement of the Bush administration, claims it can’t afford to beef up security and re-route the most dangerous materials. The reality is that we can’t afford not to.”

Markey cited the case of Iyman Faris, an Ohio truck driver who pleaded guilty in 2003 to aiding and abetting al-Qaida in plans to destroy a New York City bridge and derail a District of Columbia train.

The bill would require greater security for extremely hazardous materials, such as extra security guards and surveillance technologies. It also would:

  • Require emergency workers to be notified before toxic chemicals are transported through their region and require those workers to have response plans ready.
  • Require employee training for those who work with the shipments and whistleblower protections for those who report problems.
  • Make those who fail to comply subject to injunctions or civil penalties of up to $100,000.
  • Kathy Patterson, a District of Columbia councilwoman, issued a statement applauding the bill. Her council enacted an emergency ordinance Feb. 1 aimed at keeping hazardous shipments away from Capitol Hill, a move aimed mostly at chlorine shipped by rail in the wake of a fatal derailment in South Carolina.

    “Enacted into law, this would be welcome news to the residents of the District of Columbia that the federal government is going to finally act, instead of talk, to address the risk of a terrorist attack in the nation’s capital,” Patterson said.

    If the bill passed, federal officials would be required to issue regulations for public comment within 180 days.

    Markey introduced similar legislation in 2004.