Thursday, June 12, 2014

PHMSA Dealing with Syrian Chemical Weapons Issues

The DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA) published a notice in today’s Federal Register (79 FR 33802-33803) announcing the availability of an environmental assessment concerning a special permit request covering the truck transportation of various chemical weapons precursor chemicals from the port facilities at Port Arthur, TX 15 miles to a hazardous waste treatment facility for destruction. This operation is being conducted as part of the OPCW’s operation to remove chemical weapons and their precursors from Syria.

The chemicals in these shipments (sixteen sealed ISO maritime shipping containers) include:

• UN1052, hydrogen fluoride, anhydrous (five containers);
• UN1340, diphosphorus pentasulfide (one container);
• UN1809, phosphorus trichloride (two containers);
• UN1810, phosphorus oxychloride (two containers); and
• UN1789, Hydrochloric acid (six containers).

The chemicals involved are all packaged in smaller packagings within shipping containers. The packagings for the hydrogen fluoride are not marked with UN markings indicating that they are designed and inspected for the safe transportation of HF, but they were inspected upon loading by a team including:

• A representative of the  OPCW Technical Secretariat;
• An independent IMDG expert, contracted by the Secretariat for this purpose;
• A Norwegian IMDG expert; and
• Danish and Finish representatives from the Danish cargo vessel Ark Futura.

Those inspectors determined that the material was appropriately and safely packaged for transportation.

PHMSA is now caught between a rock and a political hard place. They can forbid the transportation of the HF because it is not properly packaged under the US rules, it can put its collective head in the sand and ignore the situation, or it can issue a special permit with appropriate mitigation measures in place for the transport. It looks like PHMSA will take the last option; good for them.

PHMSA is soliciting public comments on its environmental assessment. Comments may be filed using the Federal eRulemaking Portal (; Docket # PHMSA-2014-0085). Comments need to be submitted by June 23rd, 2014. The ship has sailed.

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