• United States



by Paul L. Kerstein

How Should We Deal With Hazardous Cargo?

Jul 05, 20052 mins
CSO and CISOData and Information Security

Yet another major city is trying to figure out how to handle hazardous materials (Hazmat) within city limits. In Chicago, Health Committee chairman Ed Smith would like to follow the lead of New York, Boston, and Washington D.C, and create a municipal exclusion zone that is off-limits to hazmat.

Earlier this year, the Washington D.C. City Council passed a law prohibiting the transport of ultra-hazardous materials within a 2.2 mile radius of the Capitol by road or rail. CSX Corp., a freight transportation company, appealed to the courts, arguing that the longer mandated routes would add to the cost of shipping, and that city government had no right to intervene with interstate commerce. The Bush administration, a reliable friend to big businesses, filed a brief in support of the CSX argument. Although a federal court has temporarily blocked the law, CSX has agreed to stop shipping Hazmat on rail lines closest to the Capitol.

In Boston, routes followed by hazmat trains and the maritime shipments of liquefied natural gas have been the subject of vigorous debate. Ever since a 2004 study detailed the dangers of liquefied natural gas, Boston officials have been looking to develop off-shore depots. City Councilor Stephen Murphy, for one, wants to see railroad cars with deadly chemicals and compounds re-routed around the city, unless they have a permit from the Boston Fire Department. Some officials have even expressed concern that MS 13, a world-wide gang with alleged links to al-Qaeda, may decide to turn tanker ships into floating bombs.

New York, the largest and most densely-populated metropolitan area, has taken more action than most. Local politicians passed legislation banning railroads from transporting hazardous materials anywhere in the city. These days, hazardous materials are brought in to town by truck in small shipments via bridge, not tunnel.

Can the hazmat problem be solved through local legislation? How about federal legislation? U.S. Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware have proposed laws to beef up rail security and ban lethal chemicals from densely populated areas. Or should we take a more holistic strategy, such as that suggested by former White House Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath? His layered approach would employ a mix of defenses, including reinforced shipping vessels, reduced load sizes and a scaled-down diversion of rail shipments. Will that work? Will anything? What the answer? Tell us what you think?