DC Council wants some hazmat shipments kept out of city

| 2/3/2005

The Washington, DC, City Council is acting to prohibit shipments of hazardous materials from traveling within two miles of Capitol Hill.

The proposed ban is contained in an ordinance introduced by DC Council member Kathy Patterson, titled the “Terrorism Prevention in Hazardous Materials Transportation Emergency Act of 2005.”

Penny Pagano, chief of staff for Patterson, said the ordinance would not ban all hazardous materials, but rather was intended to keep large shipments of substances she described as “ultrahazardous,” such as chlorine and propane, away from the center of the nation’s capital.

The proposal would require carriers shipping specific hazardous materials to receive a permit from the DC Department of Transportation before the cargo can be moved through the 2.2-mile-wide zone around the Capitol, according to a news release from the city. Shipments could also receive permission to move through the zone in certain emergencies.

Because of the unique way that the District of Columbia works, the bill must be passed three ways.

The first measure, which passed the city council Tuesday, Feb. 1, is called an emergency bill. Once it arrives at the mayor’s office, if he signs it, it will take effect for 90 days.

The second bill is a temporary bill. That requires two council votes and must be reviewed by Congress, and if passed would be in effect for 225 days.

The third bill is a permanent measure. That bill is in the city’s Public Works and Environment Committee, where the chair of the committee, Council member Carol Schwartz, is opposed to the measure.

The list of materials covered under the proposed ordinance is limited, Pagano told Land Line. It does not include flammable liquids such as gasoline or diesel fuel, for example. It does include:

  • Class 1, Division 1.1 and 1.2 explosives in a quantity greater than 500 kilograms;
  • Class 2, Division 2.1 flammable gases in a quantity greater than 10,000 liters;
  • Class 2, Division 2.3 poisonous gases in a quantity greater than 500 liters; and
  • Class 6 Division 6.1 poisonous materials in amounts over 1,000 kilograms.

“They narrowed this to really prohibit large shipments of certain extremely hazardous materials,” Pagano said. 

The council heard evidence that an attack on certain kinds of hazmat shipments could create a 14-mile-wide toxic cloud that could kill thousands in the area. Some supporters of the measure pointed out that Washington was one of the cities that was targeted in the September 11th attacks – and a likely future target.

While trucks would be included under the proposed prohibition, the main target of the bill was not trucks, but rather rail shipments, some of which come within blocks of the Capitol.

The text of the ordinance specifically mentions that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security “stated that the department had not used and would not use its authority to mandate re-routing of hazardous rail cargo.”

Councilmembers Phil Mendelson and Sharon Ambrose cosponsored the measure with Patterson. DC Mayor Anthony Williams has pledged to sign the legislation.

--by Mark H. Reddig, associate editor