Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Mexican Border Rail Issues

There was an interesting article on, an El Paso, Tx news site, about a wide variety of chemical safety issues that are related to the legal traffic in hazardous chemicals across the border in that area of the country. The article lists hydrofluoric acid, sulfuric acid and a variety of hazardous waste that crosses from Mexico to the United States in railcars through downtown Juarez and El Paso. The article quotes a 2007 report from the Good Neighbor Environmental Board (GNEB) that concludes that it is probably not possible to conduct “a thorough physical inspection of each truck, rail car and container entering the United States”. Railroad Transportation Security Rule This is especially troubling when one considers that the soon to be implemented (April 1st, 2009) chain of custody requirements for covered hazmat rail shipments (specifically including hydrofluoric acid) will not cover these railcars until they are well into the United States. The TSA, in the preamble to the rule (page 72162) states that: “The chain of custody requirements do not apply at any shipper facilities located outside the United States. Rather, for international shipments to the United States, the requirements begin at the first railroad carrier interchange point and apply to all subsequent carrier interchanges that are otherwise subject to this final rule.” This means that railcars containing poisonous by inhalation chemicals originating in the most lawless sections of Mexico, areas under control of various drug lords and other violent criminals, will transit cities like El Paso without any provisions for inspections of these cars for tampering, presence of IEDs or other threats to the integrity of their structure. Rerouting There are many that will point to this as an additional reason for requiring re-routing hazmat rail shipments around major urban areas. The article does note that last September a joint Mexican-New Mexico plan was announced to “to re-route trains from downtown Ciudad Juarez to the up-and-coming border development of Santa Teresa, New Mexico, by 2012”. The article goes on to question how much money either the Mexican Government or the government of New Mexico can afford to contribute to the public-private partnership project that could cost ‘hundreds of millions of dollars’.

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