CDC Says More Must Be Done to Stop Rail Hazmat Releases

The latest issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, an important CDC publication, contains a report on hazardous substance released in rail incidents from 2002-2007 in 18 states. Rail events caused only 2 percent of hazardous substance releases reported to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system, but 81 percent of rail releases also occurred in areas with homes within a quarter mile, and most of the victims who were injured were members of the general public, the article says.

There is a need for all stakeholders in rail safety, including public health, to work together to develop a mechanism to monitor these events and use all available data to identify vulnerabilities and proactively promote safer technologies and practices," according to the summary of the report. "Approximately 1.8 million carloads of hazardous substances are shipped annually by rail in the United States, including through densely populated or environmentally sensitive areas. Of these carloads approximately 105,000 contain toxic inhalational hazardous substances such as chlorine, anhydrous ammonia, and hydrochloric acid." This report shows why Washington, D.C., and some other cities have tried to prevent hazmats from being transported by rail through their downtowns.

The HSEES system collects and analyzes data regarding the public health consequences associated with hazardous substance release events, including transportation releases.

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