A recently-returned Vietnam War veteran was travelling on the Southwest Freeway during a regular Houston morning on May 11, 1976. As he noticed a green Volvo carrying a young mother and a baby, a chemical truck was passing over Interstate 610. From his rear-view mirror, McCan could only watch as the truck hit the bridge rail on the right shoulder of the overpass, causing its tractor and trailer to separate as it fell off the 610 Loop and onto Interstate 59.
The truck was carrying over 7,500 gallons of anhydrous ammonia that leaked because of the fall. Suddenly, the roadway was covered in a toxic fog that took the lives of 6 people and would claim one more life just a few years later. The accident also injured 178 people, including some who experienced permanent lung damage. The National Transportation Safety Board investigated the incident and decided, along with Houston officials, to keep the 610 Loop a designated roadway for trucks carrying hazardous material.
The NTSB praised the city for placing the chemical route far from more populous areas. The 610 Loop remains in its chemical route role today, even though the city of Houston has doubled in size and a modern-day accident would place a considerably greater amount of people at risk.
Trucks carrying hazardous materials pass by heavily populated areas daily in the Houston area. Exposed areas include soccer fields in Garden Oaks and the reservoir at Lake Houston. Texas remains the state with the highest number of fatalities related to moving hazardous chemicals. This statistic consists of 19 fatal accidents, which include a 2004 incident that killed 3 and injured 66, a 2014 incident where the truck driver was found dead from his own truck’s explosion, and an incident in 2015 when a propane truck crashed into a second truck, leaving 1 dead and 2 seriously injured.
The consensus seems to be that the best strategy for preventing these accidents is to move trucks carrying hazardous material away from areas where many people could be killed or injured by the blast. Although efforts to do this have been made, there has been no significant improvement.
Too Slow to Be Enforced or Effective
Texas requires any city with a population of 850,000 or more to designate specific roads for the shipping of toxic chemicals. Even though Austin has exceeded that population for years, city officials haven't designated hazardous material roads yet. The city is currently in the process of designating one, however.
Meanwhile, it is technically illegal for hazardous material to be driven across non-designated highways. However, this law is rarely enforced. Texas A&M University conducted a study that found an average of 468 dangerous truck loads being carried across Interstate 45 each day. Despite the high number of violations, the Department of Public Safety only issued 3 citations between 2013 and 2015. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has only issued 10 tickets.
Houston is a large hub for the transportation of chemicals, but the dangers of these vehicles span the nation. We have seen deadly incidents in very recent years, such as New Jersey in 2012, Michigan in 2015, and in 2016 on the Oregon-Washington border. While we know that the shipping of these materials is necessary for industry in our country, many interested in this concern—including the everyday commuter—would agree that these materials should be driven on designated pathways that avoid inflicting harm on large masses of people.
If you have been injured in an accident involving hazardous materials, contact our truck accident attorneys today at (888) 490-0442