The economics of environmental and human risk are destined to be at the center of debates in the 1990s over the transport of hazardous materials. Government regulators, operating under financial constraints, will have to answer demands for safer shipping; accidents will continue to stir public alarm.
Boyd Lunsford knows a lot about the costs of haphazard control of hazardous materials.
On a July night in 1984, Lunsford, then a brakeman for the Santa Fe Railroad, walked around a car on a derailed freight train in New Mexico--straight into a wall of hydrofluoric acid that was spraying into the air from a damaged tank car.
Lunsford suffered lung, thyroid and brain damage, along with the loss of his railroad career.
"If people knew what we carry on those trains across the United States, they would have heart attacks," Lunsford said. "Sometimes I wonder who the DOT works for."
Times researchers William Holmes and Cary Schneider contributed to this story.
The Railway Tank Car has Well-Known Flaws. . .
Public interest groups, some regulators and the railroads themselves long have been critical of using the standard rail tank car--known by its Department of Transportation designation as the "111A"--in the transport of many hazardous materials. Shown below are some of the most widely cited problem areas and proposed improvements: