A new Library of Congress study shows a sharp rise in accidents and deaths involving transportation of hazardous materials over the past several years, and says existing federal regulatory efforts may not be adequate to police the industry.
The study shows 45 deaths and 1,411 injuries involving transport of hazardous materials in 1978, compared to 32 deaths and 749 injuries in 1977 and an average 21 deaths and 592 injuries for the period.
Despite stiff existing laws, the Department of Transportation assigns so few staffers to oversee transport of hazardous materials, and imposes such light fines for violations, that the "industry is partly regulating itself," the study says.
The study, which deals primarily with hazardous chemicals and does not go into problems involving shipments of nuclear materials, was prepared for the Senate Commerce Committee, which is scheduled to begin hearings on it today.
The report makes no sweeping criticisms and contains no firm recommendations. But it does cite what it says are several present shortcomings and asks whether Congress should consider action in these areas.
Contributing to the 1978 death toll were two major mishaps-a tank-car explosion in Waverly, Tenn., in which 15 persons were killed and 48 injured, and a derailment in Youngstown, Fla., that killed 8 and injured 158.
Major accidents in 1978 involved liquefied petroleum gas, fuel oil, sodium sulfhydrate, anhydrous, ammonia, chlorine, lacquer and thinner. They accounted for more than $6 million in property damage and evacuation costs.
The report said DOT's Material Transportation Bureau, which oversees the federal effort, has only six fulltime inspectors to cover 20,000 container supply firms and 100,000 shippers-making it "unable to properly inspect even a representatives percentage."
The staff of 75 must so divide its time that "it seems unlikely that MTB will be able to perform adequately all of its functions," the reports said, noting that the bureau now spends 45 percent of its professional staff time processing special permits.
The report also said:
Federal agencies "do not take vigorous enforcement action" against violators. Fines levied by DOT agencies and othe enforcement units averaged far short of the maximum of $10,000 a violation.
DOT inspection forces are "inadequate to properly inspect industry activities," and often the industry winds up as the sole enforcer of government regulations. CAPTION: Picture, Workman at Hanford, Wash., nuclear disposal site prepares to unload low-level radioactive waste from Three Mile Island. AP