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D.C. Mulls Restrictions on Chemicals

by Jeff Johnson
February 2, 2004 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 82, Issue 5

The Washington, D.C., government is considering antiterrorism legislation to control rail and truck traffic of hazardous chemicals. The bill would make Washington the first U.S. city to restrict shipments for security reasons.

A recent District City Council meeting focused on tanker railcars that come within four blocks of the Capitol and the National Mall. Federal officials have limited dangerous materials shipments during high-visibility events—the State of the Union address and Mall ceremonies—but District officials and environmental and community groups say little is regularly done to protect residents.

Up to 2.4 million people could be killed or injured if chlorine from a 90-ton tank car were released in the District, say federal officials, who estimate that 4,000 shipments of such hazardous materials pass through the District annually.

The bill is opposed by railroads, federal officials, and the American Chemistry Council. They warn that chemicals would still have to be shipped using another route, and, instead of city-specific efforts, the focus should be on developing a comprehensive national security system for transportation.

City officials counter that the District has been singled out as a terrorist target and deserves special protection. Council officials say they hope ongoing meetings among rail officials, Greenpeace, and others will result in a compromise.

The proposed bill calls for hazardous materials shippers to obtain a city permit and to show that no alternative routes exist, that the materials’ destination is in the District, or that an emergency requires passage through the city.


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