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Current Environmental News
Contributed by Emma Belton
Recent HazMat Scare In Pennsylvania Draws Focus on How Companies Handle and Track Toxic Material
Pennsylvania currently ranks 5th in the US when it comes to hazardous spills of materials being transported through the state. Since 2000, there have been over 12,000 related events in the area, and there is growing concern about just how these shipments are tracked and transported. In January of this year, chemicals used to wash coal leaked into areas of coastal West Virginia, causing polluted drinking water supplies for 300,000 people. In February, thousands of gallons of coal slurry were spilled, again in the West Virginia region. There is growing concern in the state that the tracking and transporting of such materials is lacking, and this simply highlights the importance that companies involved in the handling, transport, or disposal of hazardous materials need to make sure their practices are properly implemented, and as safe as possible.
Hazardous Materials Impact in the US
Many elements of modern industry, whether mining, manufacturing, heavy industry, and so on, all generate a wide variety and spectrum of waste materials. Some of course, are more dangerous than others, but dealing with waste disposal, storage and transport, is an area that needs constant vigilance and attention from both companies and regulators. There is a large amount of potentially dangerous materials moving through the US as a whole on a day to day basis and, while we must of course rely on regulators to enforce and create guidelines, a large part of the onus lies on companies as well. As such, it is becoming more and more critical to not only have airtight strategies in place, but also communicate these safety procedures to the public in affected areas in order to not only create better community relations, and make affected areas, and their residents, feel safe. One of the issues that the Pennsylvania cases highlight however, is not only the need for a tighter grasp on shipping and disposal procedures by companies, but perhaps also for sharper regulation by the DOT, and affected states. Even should this be the case however, once again companies responsible for handling hazmat materials are ultimately the ones that need to ensure the proper procedures are in place.
Legal, Environmental and Health Impacts
Compared to land and sea travel, the FAA takes few prisoners when it comes to hazmat violations, constantly initiating legal proceedings against all manner of violations. While we could certainly argue that there could be benefit to a similar approach by the DOT, logistically the task would be a difficult one. One of the major issues with hazardous materials is that the damage from spills can take a very long time to recover from, and this is where cautionary provisions and emergency procedures put in place by responsible companies can make a huge difference, and government agencies and companies must be quick to act on scientific information concerning the use of potentially dangerous materials. Many countries all over the world are still feeling the effects of major spills, or hazardous materials usage to this day, and avoiding these incidents is the ultimate goal. Asbestos for example, while banned in a number of countries around the world, was only recently outlawed fully in the US as recently as 2007. This material, even though it has been banned for much longer in other countries, such as the UK, can cause health risks and deaths over a long period. Currently in the UK for example, despite being banned for around 30 years, there is still an abundance of the material in all manner of buildings. This simply draws attention to the importance of safe practice, and taking swift action to prevent such materials being widely used, spilled or otherwise contaminating regions in the future.
Combating and Avoiding Spills
One important issue raised by Pennsylvania’s recent scares is that of tracking during transportation. Knowing where hazardous materials are at all times is crucial to dealing with any emergencies quickly and efficiently, whether as privately, with a partner company, or with wider help from the authorities in serious cases. Once again, we see that the overwhelming focus lies on company practice. Having solid solutions in place, that are cost effective, but as safe as possible, and closely monitoring the travel and storage of dangerous or toxic substances is the first step to minimizing public risk, and gaining public trust.