Naked City

HazMat Matters

The Texas Dept. of Public Safety, along with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (an arm of the federal Department of Transportation), is stepping up efforts to ensure that truckers carrying hazardous materials on Texas' roadways are following sound security procedures. "This shouldn't be anything they don't already know," said DPS spokeswoman Tela Mange. "It's just a reminder that things have changed and that you need to make sure you are comfortable with the security measures being taken."

In the coming weeks, federal "field inspectors" along with troopers from DPS's license and weight division will be making the rounds at the nearly 1,900 trucking companies across the state that ship hazardous materials. According to the MCSA Web site, these inspectors will deliver "security talking points" at each of the carrier companies, recommending that carriers "develop an overall security plan." Checking personnel records, making sure the trucks are locked at night, and other precautions are enlisted as "talking points." Says Mange, "I know it sounds kind of elementary," adding that making sure all companies are on the same page is important.

Aside from company visits, Mange said, DPS troopers will continue to make random roadside stops. Troopers from the license and weight division are allowed to do this without probable cause, and will continue to man highway weigh stations, which will also be open on a random basis so that carriers cannot avoid a stop.

Other than that, however, states can't do much to regulate who is carrying what, when, and where. Certain materials, such as radioactive substances, must be registered with the Texas Department of Health. In terms of knowing when and where something is being shipped, however, there are just too many carriers on the highways -- and coming in from other states, for that matter -- for Texas officials to keep track of them. Perhaps troubling: I-35, the HazMat route through Travis County, runs in front of several of Austin's major hospitals and the headquarters of the Austin Police Department. "When you think that there are over 1,900 carriers in Texas alone, not to mention all the carriers who come through from out of state," Mange said, "that's just not something we can track."

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