Hazmat Safety  

  A catastrophe waiting to happen?

Within the past several months, serious accidents involving commercial
trucks, some carrying hazardous materials, have many people concerned. Our
city hosts a number of commercial truck routes, including Boston Avenue,
Salem Street, and Mystic Avenue.

These thoroughfares are also home to many of our residents, as well as those
whose homes abut these truck routes. Innumerable business operations also
line these roads. In some instances, gas station sit in close proximity to
each other on the same routes. Imagine, if you will, a tanker truck
exceeding the speed limit-as many commercial truckers do-rolling over and
bursting into flames on Salem Street at Garfield Avenue or Otis Street,
where two gas station sit across the street from each other. The
consequences in terms of human lives and property damage are unthinkable.
Admittedly, this is a worst-case scenario, but, bear in mind, it could
happen here.

Here are some recent facts:

On May 8, in Allston, a delivery truck struck eight parked vehicles and
burst into flames, injuring two and shoving a car onto the MBTA tracks. The
driver, whose license had been suspended twice for traffic violations, was
charged with driving to endanger and leaving the scene of an accident.

On April 29, a 72-year-old woman was seriously injured after her car hit a
tanker truck on near Sweetser Circle in Everett, the same location as a
tragic December 5 crash. Traffic was shut down for hours. Police are
investigating driver negligence.

On March 28, on Interstate 91 near Chicopee, a tanker swerving to avoid a
car rolled over and blew up, setting aflame its 1,000 gallons of gasoline.
The truck was from the same company involved in the December 5 episode.
Police are looking at driver negligence.

On December 5, a tanker truck rolled over in Sweetser Circle in Everett.
Leaking gasoline ignited two houses. Scores of vehicles were lost. Residents
(including those in a nursing home) were evacuated. Despite a history of
speeding convictions and license suspensions, the driver evaded criminal

The sobering reality of the these incidents may well give you pause, as it
has our legislators, who have drafted bills to address the problem.
Senate bill 2522 would allow municipalities to prohibit tankers carrying
explosive and inflammable materials from traveling through rotaries (pending
approval from the state highway department).

Senate bill 2523 calls for the owner or operator of any vehicle that
transports hazardous materials to be liable for any damage to people or
property resulting from commercial transportation of explosive and
inflammable materials. This bill emphasizes prevention through safety
standards-for example, making sure the trucks are driiven by people with
safe driving records.

Under Senate bill 2563, penalties would jump from $200 to $500 for
commercial vehicles exceeding the posted weight limit on bridges. Also, any
vehicles exceeding weight limits in transport of hazardous materials would
be given a moving violation (a new category, valuable in calculating autoe
insurance premiums) and would establish a penalty for drivers convicted of
speeding while transporting explosive and inflammable materials.

Senate bill 2558 would prohibit commercial truck companies from engaging in
conduct encouraging speeding and unsafe driving, including paying drivers
based on the weight of cargo or the number of deliveries made or penalizing
them for not accepting compensation based on the size of a load or number of
deliveries made.

I urge you to support your legislators in their efforts to make these bills
into law. Thanks to the Internet, you can do so easily on Massachusetts'
official website. To find the status of a bill, go to
www.mass.gov/legis/ltsform.htm. To find the full text of a bill, go to