PHMSA seeks to enhance hazmat transfer safety

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The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration on Thursday, March 10, announced a proposed rule that would require additional training for employees and new safety requirements for motor carriers and facilities that transfer hazardous materials to and from rail cargo and highway cargo trucks. “This rule would help cut the safety risks to workers loading and unloading hazardous materials and to people living near those facilities,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

PHMSA data show that the most dangerous part of transporting hazardous materials by highway cargo trucks and by rail occurs when the hazardous material is being transferred by hose or pipe between the holding facility and the rail or truck transporting it, and that human error and equipment failure also cause the greatest number of incidents during loading and unloading operations, sometimes with tragic consequences.

The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking would require practice drills and classroom training of truck drivers and other workers who unload or load hazardous material, training on automatic valve shutdown to ensure the systems are in place and that employees know how to use the systems, and developing inspection and maintenance programs to ensure the safety of hoses, valves and other equipment used in loading and unloading.

PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman said that between October and December 2010, five of the six incidents involving death or major injury were related to the loading and unloading of hazardous materials. “We believe these proposed changes will increase safety and ultimately reduce the likelihood of catastrophic hazardous material incidents during loading and unloading,” Quarterman said.

Over the past 10 years, fatal and serious accidents during the process of transferring hazardous materials between rail or trucks and holding tanks prompted two related recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board and one from the Chemical Safety Board. Those recommendations were based on the following accidents:
§ On July 14, 2001, in Riverview, Mich., methyl mercaptan was released from a rail tank car during unloading. The material ignited, engulfing the tank car in flames. Three plant employees were killed and 2,000 people living in the surrounding neighborhood were evacuated;
§ On Sept. 13, 2002, in Freeport, Texas, a tank car containing about 6,500 gallons of oleum – fuming sulfuric acid and sulfur trioxide – ruptured at a transfer station. Twenty-eight people received minor injuries, and residents living within one mile had to shelter-in-place for 5½ hours. Two storage tanks near the transfer station were damaged, and they released 660 gallons of the hazardous material;
§ On Aug. 14, 2002, in Festus, Mo., an unloading hose ruptured releasing about 24 tons of chlorine over three hours. The magnitude of the incident was exacerbated because the emergency shutdown system failed. Three residents were admitted to the hospital, and hundreds were evacuated or asked to shelter-in-place; and
§ On Aug. 11, 2005, in Baton Rouge, La., a chlorine transfer hose ruptured, although the emergency shutdown system operated properly, and the release ended in under a minute.

The public comment period ends 60 days after the date of publication in the Federal Register. The proposed rule is available at Comments may be submitted at; the docket number is PHMSA-2007-28119.