Special Permits, Hearing Spotlight Hazmat Cargo Tanks

An Aug. 3-4 public hearing by the NTSB about an Indianapolis crash will look at design changes and tank crashworthiness standards. Meanwhile, PHMSA has proposed incorporating six special permits in the Hazardous Materials Regulations, mainly for agricultural shipments.

Cargo tank trucks transporting hazardous materials are in the news, with the National Transportation Safety Board scheduling an Aug. 3-4 public hearing on a rollover and fire that occurred Oct. 22, 2009, on I-69 in Indianapolis. While NTSB will examine vehicle design changes that could reduce the likelihood of rollover accidents, as well as driver training and crashworthiness standards for cargo tanks, DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has proposed incorporating six special permits in the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR, at 49 CFR Parts 171-180) that also deal with hazmat shipments, mainly for agricultural use. PHMSA says these are existing permits that have been used for years, in some cases, by thousands of grantees with no safety incidents associated with them.

The NTSB hearing will begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 3 at NTSB headquarters in Washington, D.C. According to its announcement, the October 2009 truck fire involved an 11,600-gallon cargo tank semi-trailer carrying liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) that rolled and struck a bridge abutment and pillar of the I-465 southbound overpass, breaching the tank and starting a fire that involved the truck and eight other vehicles. Two serious injuries and several minor injuries resulted, according to NTSB.

"The hearing is the safety board's opportunity to gather additional facts and information for the investigation of this accident," said NTSB Chairman Deborah A.P. Hersman. "Cargo tank vehicles account for 31 percent of all fatal commercial truck rollovers. Not only is the safety board concerned about this high fatality rate, but the significant additional danger to people and the environment that can result from the release of hazardous materials. In this particular case, the rollover resulted in significant structural damage to the highway and other vehicles."

PHMSA says special permits "enable the hazardous materials industry to quickly, effectively, and safely integrate new products and technologies into the production and transportation stream." The six special permits PHMSA now wants to add to the HMR -- freeing more than 10,000 current grantees from the task of reapplying for a renewal every four years -- would authorize:

  • transport of LPG in non-DOT specification cargo tank motor vehicles known as moveable fuel storage tenders that are used exclusively for agricultural purposes and operated by a private motor carrier; in place since 1994, this permit has been used by some 3,400 grantees.
  • transport of Division 6.1 liquid soil pesticide fumigants in DOT Specification MC 306 and DOT 406 cargo tank motor vehicles and DOT 57 portable tanks for agricultural purposes, no more than 150 miles between a bulk loading facility and farms.
  • transport of hazmats used for roadway striping in non-DOT specification cargo tanks; the permit has been in effect since 1999.
  • transport of LPG in consumer storage containers with quantities greater than 5 percent of the container's water capacity from the consumer location to the container owner's nearest LPG plant.
  • transport of nurse tanks -- non-DOT specification cargo tanks used to transport and apply anhydrous ammonia fertilizers that are securely mounted on field trucks; the nurse tanks must have a minimum design pressure of 250 psig, be equipped with pressure relief valves, have a capacity of 3,000 gallons or less, and be loaded to a filling density of 56 percent or less.

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