Hazmat Accidents Increasing on Texas Roadways
According to the Houston Chronicle, the Houston area saw more than 1,000 heavy truck accidents in 2017. Large truck accidents alone are cause for concern, but in some cases, the risk associated with a crash reaches far beyond the surrounding traffic. In 2017, about 10% of local large truck accidents involved hazmat incidents.
What is a Hazmat Incident?
The low-key language used to describe the event can be a bit misleading. A “hazmat incident” is an accidental release of toxic materials into the environment. In the case of trucking accidents, this usually occurs when a crash triggers a spill onto the roadway or a release of gases into the atmosphere.
Houston-area commuters may recall that in November, a portion of I-10 was closed for several hours after a tanker truck accident resulted in a sulfuric acid spill. That accident illustrates just how delicate handling of a hazardous chemical mishap can be. Although only about one gallon of the hazardous material spilled in the crash, management of the remaining load, which had shifted from the impact, took a hazardous materials crew most of the day.
However, not all highway hazmat incidents involve traffic accidents. Nationwide, truck accidents account for only a small percentage of reportable hazmat incidents on the road.
What is Considered a ‘Hazardous’ Material?
The federal government breaks out hazardous materials into several classes.
- Class 1 hazardous materials include explosives such as black powder and fireworks, which create a risk of explosion and projectiles resulting from an explosion.
- Class 2 hazardous materials are gasses, including flammable and toxic gasses.
- Class 3 hazardous materials include flammable and combustible liquids.
- Class 4 hazardous materials are solids that are flammable, spontaneously combustible, or hazardous when wet.
- Class 5 hazardous materials include oxidizers and organic peroxides.
- Class 6 hazardous materials include poisonous and infectious materials.
- Class 7 hazardous materials are radioactive.
- Class 8 hazardous materials are corrosive.
- Class 9 includes miscellaneous hazardous materials not included in classes 1-8.
Shipment of hazardous chemicals and other materials is strictly governed by both federal and state law and requires specialized training, documentation, safety planning, placards identifying the hazardous materials onboard a truck or other vehicle, and more. Failure to comply with these regulations may result in government-imposed penalties. Further, violation of a safety-related regulation provides evidence of negligence should a person harmed by a hazmat incident choose to pursue legal action against the shipper.
How Common are Trucks Carrying Hazardous Chemicals?
In 2012, more than 2.5 billion tons of hazardous chemicals and other hazardous materials were shipped within the United States. About 60%, or 1.5 billion tons, traveled by truck. Texas was the leading destination for shipped hazardous materials, accounting for more than 900 million tons of material, or about 35% of the total shipped within the United States.
Many of the hazardous releases come from tanker truck accidents. However, not all hazardous materials are in liquid or gas form. There are solid explosives and hazardous materials that must be transported as well as waste stored and moved in drums. Thus, some involve other types of commercial motor vehicles as well.
What to Do in a Hazmat Incident
If you are in the vicinity of a hazmat incident such as a release of gasses or a hazardous chemical spill, the first and most important thing you should do is follow instructions of authorities in the area. In particular, you should not enter an area that is restricted due to a hazmat incident. You should remove yourself as completely as possible, taking care to stay upwind or upstream and put significant distance between yourself and the affected area.
If you are in your car and unable to leave the area, as may occur when a truck accident causes a spill on a busy highway, you should immediately close your windows and vents to minimize exposure. If you are inside your home or able to retreat to your home, ensure that all doors and windows are tightly closed, and remain inside until you receive the all-clear from authorities.
Seeking Help after a Hazmat Incident
Symptoms of chemical exposure may vary. Depending on a variety of factors, reactions may be more or less severe and may develop on different timelines. When in doubt, it is best to seek medical evaluation promptly.