Hazardous Material Incident on the US Roadways Involving Trucking
Incidents involving trucks are a non-rare occurrence not only in the United States but also in the majority of developed countries of the world. Nevertheless, trucking remains one of the most relied on means of moving hazardous materials from one point to the other. Apparently, reliance on truck services is majorly informed by availability, affordability, and well-developed road infrastructures. Regardless of these advantages, there has been a continuous reporting of incidents on the US roadways. Moreover, some of these incidents have even led to death or permanent injuries to many Americans. Although the governments and road safety authorities have taken measures to reduce such incidences, they still occur. More to say, they are unlikely to be completely eradicated because they frequently originate from human error or negligence. These impacts are not isolated in the USA alone. Thus, only last week, a truck carrying flammable materials smashed into other vehicles on a Kenyan road and exploded immediately, claiming more than 40 lives on the spot, while numerous victims were left in critical condition. Thus, such daunting statistics has prompted the development of this study. Moreover, great deal of attention is given to such dramatic accidents, but little is said about other less dramatic incidents whose effects take time before they can be felt.
According to Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), previous safety measures that were informed by the structured study’s findings had led to a reduction of trucks accident by 33% between 2004 and 2009 (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). However, fatal accidents with trucks have seen an increase by 20% from 2009 to 2013, which suggests that there has been a relaxation in the implementation of safety laws or new strategies have not been developed to help in dealing with upcoming causes of such fatal accidents (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). One of the possible causes of this increase could be the spillage of hazardous materials on the roads. The FMCSA report goes on to indicate that 81,000 truck accidents have occurred between 2013 and 2014 (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). It should be noted that this information only includes those accidents that have led to direct property damage but it does not include the spillages that are likely to cause gradual damage to the environment and eventually to the citizens. Moreover, this increase of reported truck accidents by 31% over the same period in the previous year elucidates the need to take action based on well-researched findings and recommendations (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). Furthermore, the FMCSA report projects that the amount of truck accidents is likely to increase or remain steady as compared to other motor vehicle accidents (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). It can be attributed to the rise in the number of commercial delivery vehicles on the roads, driver fatigue, and driver inattention as well as a small margin of error that accompany driving larger vehicles.
As for spillage, which is the primary focus of this study, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) report indicates that 47,000 barrels of hazardous liquids spilled in the year 2014 alone (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). Although nearly 50% of them is said to have been contained and eliminated, the remaining amount still poses significant threat to the environment (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). The report goes further and indicates that 700 different spill incidents involving hazardous liquids have led to the death of 19 people, left 96 people injured and property worth more than $300,000 destroyed (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). Such daunting figures illustrate the need for the public, the federal, state, and local governments to join forces in addressing the problem. Although this information is startling, the parties involved with the reduction of the problem should be congratulated as these figures indicate a drastic reduction of incidents as compared to 2013 when $1.5 billion worth of property was damaged in the accidents related to truck spill incidents (Linchao & Fratrović, 2016). This decrease in the number of spill incidents is attributed to numerous studies that have so far been conducted by FMCSA together with other interested stakeholders (Häkkänen & Summala, 2001). Such studies have analyzed the major causes of truck related accidents and contributed to the efforts aimed at ensuring that such incidences are lowered to the lowest level if not entirely eradicated. Thus, this study will focus on hazardous but rarely noticed accidents that pose a significant threat to the environment. Mostly, this paper will evaluate the cause and effects of Exide hazardous waste dripping from trucks onto roads before making recommendations on what can be done to remedy the situation.
Description of the Incident
According to several documents in the public domain, Vernon battery recycler trucks spilled some of their dangerous waste products onto some of the public roads close to the plant (Barboza, 2014). The environmental inspector responsible for the case indicated that the leaking of Vernon harmful waste products during transportation was not a case in isolation but rather an ongoing problem on the US roads, and it called for immediate attention from all stakeholders (Barboza, 2014). In fact, such a leak involving lead-tainted acid and other acidic materials warrants for criminal investigation and prosecution before a grand jury. California Highway Patrol observed the leaks under investigation on this study, which was confirmed by the state inspector posted at the Vernon facility (Barboza, 2014). According to a report from the Highway Patrol unit, a truck carrying waste products to the weighing station was stopped due to excessive and observable leaks (Barboza, 2014). The incident has led to a detailed investigation on the problem. Thus, the investigation said that the California Department of Toxic Substance and Control had to carry out a series of evaluations on the dangers that the reported spill posed to the people close to the plant (Barboza, 2014). As a result, the involved trucking company and the company responsible for the spill were named as respondents in the case, filed by the toxic substance department on behalf of the people affected by hazardous materials (Barboza, 2014).
Initially, the issue was raised by the community groups claiming that the plant, located about five miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, contributed significantly to the pollution of the environment and the Los Angeles River (Barboza, 2014). Consequently, the air quality regulator conducted some evaluation and confirmed the fears raised by the community groups by citing that Exide had emitted excess arsenic to the environment (Barboza, 2014). According to the air quality regulator report, the company posed a risk to more than 100 residents due to its release of hazardous materials in the year 2013 alone (Barboza, 2014). Moreover, the state toxic substance regulator had observed that the company spillage of waste products was to blame for the elevated levels of lead in the soil of the areas surrounding the plant (Barboza, 2014). Five months later, officers discovered leaks in the trucks, transporting the waste product, during a random stop on the highway. The involved vehicle was identified to belong to Lutrel Trucking Inc. (Barboza, 2014). Apparently, the truck carried plastic chips that remained after the crushing of auto batteries to the nearby recycling facility (Barboza, 2014). Officers involved in the incident acted swiftly by notifying the Los Angeles Fire Department hazardous division who came and cleaned the spill (Barboza, 2014). This occurrence led to another investigation by the Department of Toxic Substances Control of the Exide facility and trucks (Barboza, 2014). The report, released by the inquiry team, indicated that Vernon trucks had leaked liquid with hazardous levels of lead onto the highway routes that they used (Barboza, 2014). Similar observations were made in several other sites associated with the company. Consequently, Excide was cited for violation of hazardous waste regulations through their trucking services (Barboza, 2014). Moreover, the report gave explicit directives to the enterprise to ensure that the battery waste products were placed inside leak-free containers before being loaded into the trucks for transportation (Barboza, 2014). More to say, the leaking of such hazardous waste on public roads is not only harmful to the environment but it is also categorized under illegal waste disposal.
Factors That Led to the Incident
Generally, drivers’ errors, vehicle failure, and environment have been identified as the leading causes of truck-related accidents (Häkkänen & Summala, 2001). Errors related to a lack of efficient performance from truck drivers contribute the largest fraction of such accidents (Häkkänen & Summala, 2001). These errors range from sleeping behind the wheel, a medical impairment that affects driving ability, distractions, missed road signs and road warnings due to poor decision-making as evidenced in speeding, over-corrected after experiencing a panic, tailgating among others. Additionally, vehicle equipment and mechanical failure also contributed significantly to the recorded number of accidents. These failures originate from the loading process, where improper cargo arrangement results in the shifting of cargo and disrupts the truck balance, significantly increasing the chances of tilting and overturning when negotiating sharp corners (Häkkänen & Summala, 2001). Lastly, environment related factors coupled with the road conditions influence the rate of truck accidents. Poor weather conditions, such as fog, excessive wind, snow, and extreme brightness, affect the visibility of road and roads signs raising the probability of poor decision making (Dorrian, Sweeney, & Dawson, 2010). Moreover, potholes, slippery roads, and other road obstructions increase the number of accidents, especially at night (Dorrian, Sweeney, & Dawson, 2010). Other associated causes of truck incidents include unfamiliar roads, fatigue, alcohol use, brake problems, and traffic congestion among others (Dorrian, Sweeney, & Dawson, 2010).
In this particular case, the error originated from the packaging and loading process. Even though the contamination levels of the spilled waste did not pose an immediate threat to the people in the surrounding areas nor they had any measurable impact at that moment, regular washing away of such substance into the rivers and the soil affected the environment. In this incident, the problem was seen to originate from a broken dryer that was used by the company to dry plastic waste before transportation (Barboza, 2014). After plastic had been washed to remove lead, the dryer in use failed to dry the recyclable remains of the batteries completely. Therefore, had the drying machine not been broken and the trucking company used the right kind of trucks when transporting these waste products, the incident would not have occurred.
The first measure that was taken to avoid a repeat of similar incident involved restricting the trucking company from using such kind of trucks when transporting battery waste products (Barboza, 2014). To enforce this directive within the law, the regulating agency needed to review the content of its hazardous waste permit to ensure that the new measures were adhered to before a company could be given a permit to operate in the trucking industry. Moreover, the regulator ought to have revoked the involved business license until such a time that the broken machines were be restored to their excellent conditions. Additionally, the toxic substance department should consider reviewing their policies to ensure that companies involved with the transportation of flammable and hazardous materials were not allowed to operate with a temporary permit. All businesses that have not complied with new standards enshrined within the state laws should be shut down to send a message to all other hazardous material trucking companies to avoid breaking the rules.
As indicated above, dangers associated with the transportation of hazardous materials are further amplified by the possibility of spillage of what is transported. According to recent transportation safety release, motorists, especially those using passenger vehicles, have been warned to be keen on the dangers posed by trucks on the highways (Dindarloo, Pollard, & Siami-Irdemoosa, 2016). Moreover, a call should be made for the general public to report trucks showing evidence of dripping material on the roads to the authorities (Dindarloo, Pollard, & Siami-Irdemoosa, 2016). Although such a spillage may not lead to the immediate death of a person, the materials are usually washed away into the rivers or surrounding gardens; consequently, they affect the plants and aquaculture and eventually, the humans who consume the affected food products (Dindarloo, Pollard, & Siami-Irdemoosa, 2016).
Apparently, weird truck spills throughout the United States continue to amplify the dangers associated with trucking. Furthermore, trucks are known to cause more damage when involved in road accidents as compared to other cars; hence, the need to consult accident lawyers in the determination of whether a lawsuit against the trucking company is warranted (Dorrian, Sweeney, & Dawson, 2010). Such a reality qualifies the recommendation to conduct more studies on road safety improvement even as the nation endeavors to continue embracing a sustainable form of development that does not pollute the environment. Based on this review, it is clear that few studies and recommendations have been made on less fatal incidents that are likely to cause gradual but long-term effects on the environment.
The study has identified a pattern of fluctuating rates of hazardous material incidents along the United States roadways. Based on the data and reports evaluated in the survey, regulation authorities have concentrated more on fatal accidents, with little attention being given to spill incidents. Nonetheless, such incidents have been known to cause immediate death, especially when involving flammable substances or gradual pollution of the environment. Moreover, lack of clear rules in the regulation of the trucking companies involved with hazardous material was identified as a potential cause of the increase in the number of reported incident. In the Exide battery company case, the study had found that the company was allowed to operate with a temporary permit for a long time, which was not supposed to be the case. At the same time, unprofessional loading and the use of a wrong truck have been identified as other potential causes of spill of hazardous materials along the roads. Lastly, the author recommends that trucking regulators should come up with new regulation informed by new study findings. Similarly, the state lawmakers have a duty to legislate on such on-going issues. Nonetheless, the trucking companies and drivers have the most significant role to play in the reduction on the adverse figures related to incidents involving trucking.