Homeland Security Won't Remove Hazmat Signs

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced April 7 that it will drop a proposal to remove warning placards from railcars carrying hazardous materials that pose a toxic inhalation risk. The decision came after firefighters and other first responders warned that removing the signs could endanger those transportation workers and emergency personnel who respond to accidents involving hazardous materials, and communities through which the shipments travel. DHS was considering the removal of placards due to terrorism concerns. DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff announced the decision at the National Fire and Emergency Services Dinner in Washington, DC. Chertoff explained, "I understand that there is a legitimate serious concern about whether by identifying hazardous material, we are giving people a target or a bull's-eye. And that is a real risk we have to weigh. I also understand that we have to consider the need of people who respond, people who respond not only to terrorist threats, but to derailments or accidents that happen at any point in time anywhere in the country, and the need they have to understand the hazards that they are going to face." Last year, the Transportation Security Administration within DHS ordered an independent review of alternatives to the placard system. Among other things, it found that first responders use the placards to react to an emergency quickly and appropriately. The study also concluded that no alternate technologies are currently available that could effectively replace the system. DHS and the Department of Transportation (DOT) published a notice and request for comments Aug. 16, 2004 in the Federal Register asking for feedback on several security proposals to increase security of toxic inhalation hazard (TIH) materials on railways. About 10 million tons of TIH materials are shipped by rail in the United States every year. The agencies specifically solicited comments on whether the placards should be removed, if alternative systems could replace the placards, and what the perceived impacts would be on first-responders and transportation workers. An International Association of Fire Chiefs survey, published in early March 2005, found that 98 percent of fire chiefs who responded believed the placards were essential and should not be removed. The association opposed the DHS proposal. Almost all of the nearly 100 comments submitted in response to the Federal Register notice raised concerns about removing the placards.
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