Hazardous Materials

Chemical Spill in the Sacramento River Gao ID: T-RCED-91-87 July 31, 1991

GAO discussed issues concerning the federal regulation of hazardous materials transportation and the circumstances surrounding a California train derailment that spilled 20,000 gallons of metam sodium, a weedkiller and pesticide, into the Sacramento River. GAO noted that: (1) the actual cause of the accident is still unknown; (2) neither the Environmental Protection Agency nor the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) classify metam sodium as a hazardous substance, but the Coast Guard has designated metam sodium a hazardous material for liquid bulk transportation since it is highly toxic to marine life; (3) the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) inspection program was not effective, because it lacked inspection coverage standards, did not target railroad inspections based on accident and inspection data, had no mandatory inspection follow-up programs, and did not uniformly apply safety regulations throughout the industry; (4) the FRA enforcement program did not encourage compliance with safety regulations; (5) the FRA hazardous materials programs did not ensure that railroads and shippers followed RSPA regulations governing rail transportation of hazardous materials; and (6) RSPA and FRA initiated some actions to implement the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act to achieve greater uniformity and consistency in the laws governing hazardous materials transportation, but lack of funds hindered their efforts.

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