From 1965 to 2006, there were about 2.2 million tank car shipments of chlorine, and only 788 accidents involving them occurred.

Many Questions About Railroad Escape Respirator Proposal

The proposal published by the Federal Railroad Administration is unworkable as written because it would require performance that currently approved escape respirators aren't tested for, ISEA and others said in their comments.

Comments posted Monday and in recent days about the Federal Railroad Administration's proposed Emergency Escape Breathing Apparatus rule contend the rule is unworkable as currently written for several reasons.

The American Industrial Hygiene Association said the NPRM's proposed requirements to conduct and document pre-trip inspections of the respirators "is unnecessary and overly burdensome," and the International Safety Equipment Association pointed out that the NPRM calls for the escape respirators to be certified by NIOSH or ISO, but ISO is not a certifying body -- instead, it writes standards.

The proposal was published Oct. 5, 2010; it included as Appendix B a draft specification from the Association of American Railroads. But ISEA's Dec. 6 comments, published over the signature of ISEA President Dan Shipp, said it is not appropriate for that specification to be included in the final regulatory text for several reasons. One example: the specification says an escape respirator must protect the wearer's respiratory system, head, and neck against a challenge concentration of 10,000 ppm for anhydrous ammonia and chlorine gas, but the two protocols specified in the NPRM -- NIOSH's, found in 49 CFR Part 84, and the ISO standard 23269-1:2008(E) -- do not test against those two agents.

The specification also says respirators must be rugged enough to withstand being stored inside a railcar but does not detail the testing methodology for determining this. "Currently, neither ISO nor NIOSH emergency escape breathing device standards require testing for vibration and rough handling that would sufficiently replicate this environment," Shipp wrote. "In order for an acceptable respirator to meet this criterion, an objective test protocol with specific testing and pass/fail criteria will need to be developed."

FRA's proposal fulfills a congressional requirement in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, but the proposal itself (available along with submitted comments in this online docket) shows how few hazmat inhalation casualties occur on U.S. railroad lines. From 1965 to 2006, there were about 2.2 million tank car shipments of chlorine, and only 788 accidents involving them occurred. Two of those accidents involved the deaths of railroad employees -- a Macdona, Texas, spill in June 2004, in which NTSB cited crew fatigue as a contributing factor, and the Graniteville, S.C., spill on Jan. 6, 2005.

Only 2.6 percent of the 2,594 train and engine rail employee casualties during a recent 10-year period involved inhalation of hazmats, it states. Citing an October 2007 AAR report, the proposal says from 1997 to 2006, railroads' fatality rate from inhalation of hazardous material was 1 fatality per 5.7 million shipments of the top 125 hazmats.

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