Congress calling for wetlines ban on all hazmat tank trailers

July 1, 2009
The News on the wetlines (retained product piping) issue gets worse by the day.

The News on the wetlines (retained product piping) issue gets worse by the day. As this issue of Bulk Transporter went to press, the House of Representatives Transportation & Infrastructure Committee staffers announced that the proposed ban on wetlines would apply to all cargo tank trailers used to transport hazardous materials.

Clearly, this is bad news for the tank truck industry. More than new tank trailers would be affected. The proposed legislation would mandate a retrofit installation of a wetlines purging system on every hazmat tank trailer on the road today. Tens of thousands of existing tank trailers would have to be retrofitted at an enormous cost and significant safety risk to the tank mechanics that would have to perform the installations.

By way of background, the proposed ban on wetlines is contained in the draft bill for reauthorization of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, which, in turn, is part of the 774-page 2009 Highway Bill. Initial estimates suggest that wetlines purging systems will cost $5,000 to $7,000 on a new tank trailer and up to $10,000 as a retrofit on a used tank trailer.

The new trailer requirement would take effect two years after passage of the law, and the retrofit requirement would start in 2020. There is no grandfather provision for any existing tank trailers. The proposal is covered in detail on page 19 of this issue of Bulk Transporter.

While there are numerous reasons for the tank truck industry to oppose this legislation, National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC) suggests focusing on three key areas. First, there is no valid safety reason to justify a wetlines ban. Second, the proposed requirement is far too broad. Third, the proposed legislation ignored critical issues, such as safety risks for tank mechanics and potential vapor emissions.

NTTC officials state that historical evidence shows wetlines pose little risk. At most, only one death has been verified and no injuries were recorded “due to cargo tank transportation of gasoline in wetlines accidents as defined by the US Department of Transportation and industry during the past 10 years.” This was during a period when there were more than 57,000 deliveries of gasoline every day.

NTTC officials have questioned why the legislation is going beyond the flammable liquids that were addressed by the National Transportation Safety Board and DOT is past discussions of a wetlines ban. This new and expanded application would impact transporters of heating oil, diesel fuel, road oil, and a variety of products that have not been found to pose any threat to the motoring public.

The most worrisome aspect of the legislation is the retrofit requirement for used tank trailers. NTTC officials say the industry firmly believes that the retrofit requirement will result in far more deaths and injuries to tank mechanics performing the work than will be prevented for motorists. Since 1998, 19 workers have died performing welding and other work on cargo tanks used to haul flammable materials.

During hearings by the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee in May, New York Democrat Representative Jerry Nadler snidely asked a witness how she would explain to the relatives of someone killed in a wetlines accident that decisions were based on cost-benefit analysis. The question Rep Nadler should answer is how he will explain to the relatives of a mechanic killed during a purging system retrofit that the death occurred as a result of congressional whimsy on the part of himself and others on the committee.

Clean air is another issue connected to the proposed wetlines ban. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) expressed concerns about wetlines purging systems back in 2005. The purging systems that were being developed at the time used air to push product from the piping and up into the cargo tank. As a result, the venting system would essentially “burp” and release product vapors in the air. This would increase air pollution. As it stands now, no new technology has been developed to address that issue.

Clearly, more study is needed before Congress forces a costly and potentially unsafe wetlines ban on the tank truck industry. NTTC has called for the Transportation Secretary to study the extent of risk posed by the transportation of flammable liquids/hazardous materials in cargo tank piping and evaluate the impact of a possible ban on safety, equipment manufacturers, air quality, and the tank truck industry.

This issue is changing almost by the day, and members of the tank truck industry need to stay focused on it. Most importantly, tank fleet managers need to talk with their federal elected officials to communicate industry concerns about this expensive and unnecessary solution to a problem that barely exists

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About the Author

Charles Wilson

Charles E. Wilson has spent 20 years covering the tank truck, tank container, and storage terminal industries throughout North, South, and Central America. He has been editor of Bulk Transporter since 1989. Prior to that, Wilson was managing editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter and associate editor of Trailer/Body Builders. Before joining the three publications in Houston TX, he wrote for various food industry trade publications in other parts of the country. Wilson has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and served three years in the U.S. Army.