HMAC Conference Coyner Stresses HazMat's Crucial Role

Kelley Coyner, Administrator for the Research and Special Programs Administration (RSPA) of the United States Department of Transportation, says DOT has built a hazardous materials program that protects the public through strong safety standards, ensures people know how to comply with these standards, and responds through strong enforcement to stop illegal shipments and activities. Coyner was keynote speaker at the 1999 Hazardous Materials Advisory Council (HMAC) annual conference May 13, 1999.

"Hazardous materials are important in nearly every aspect of our lives and to our economy," she said. "They keep us warm in winter, fuel our cars and trucks, keep our businesses going, enable advanced medical procedures, protect us from disease, and are part of numerous other products we use every day."

Coyner indicated more than three billion tons of regulated hazardous materials are transported each year, and more than 800,000 shipments of hazardous materials are handled daily. The safe transportation of these goods is a top priority for RSPA, as is protecting the public through strong safety standards, ensuring people know how to comply with the safety standards, and more strongly enforcing the standards to stop illegal shipments.

"Strong, uniform national and international standards are essential for the safe transportation of hazardous materials," Coyner said. "As we draft and implement these standards, we look to provide practical and cost-effective solutions, including exploring state-of-the-art answers to improve safety for the benefit of the American people."

Coyner said her agency is: *Striving for national and international uniformity in hazmat standards. *Developing negotiated rulemakings to involve industry representatives. *Addressing the appropriate jurisdiction for hazmat workers. *Aligning regulations and addressing ways to improve the cost-effective and safe transport of biological products and diagnostic specimens. *Pursuing harmonized international standards. *Working with other agencies to harmonize classification systems. *Proceeding toward the publication of the 2000 North American Emergency Response Guide with Canada and Mexico.

"Strong safety standards are critical, but alone are not effective if shippers and carriers do not know how to comply with them," Coyner said. "We have an obligation to ensure that shippers and carriers know and understand the regulations."

Coyner identified several ways in which RSPA is trying to reach the hazmat audience: *Strengthening awareness through technical assistance and additional training resources. *Collaborating with other agencies, state hazmat enforcement agencies, and associations representing various segments of the hazardous materials community. *Providing easy access to DOT's recently upgraded hazardous materials information system. The Hazardous Materials Information Exchange (HMIX) fielded more than 27,000 calls over the HazMat hotline (800-467-4922). *Offering a newly expanded web site to provide public access to information on training courses, regulatory information, and potential year-2000 problems. *Expanding its participation in the Cooperative Hazardous Materials Enforcement Development (COHMED) program.

"Although training and public education are valuable tools for enhancing compliance," Coyner said, "there will always be people who refuse or neglect to comply with our safety standards. We need to continue addressing that problem."

In response, 15 new hazmat inspectors were hired and a Hazardous Materials Safety regional office was opened in Atlanta, Georgia, a major hub of hazmat activity, according to Coyner. In addition, the department: *Established a "ticketing program" to address regulation violations that do not have a substantive impact on safety. *Explored ways to issue emergency orders to stop unsafe practices that pose an immediate threat to life, property, or the environment. *Is seeking clarification of DOT's authority to open and examine packages DOT inspectors have reason to believe contain hazardous materials. *Continues financing a grant program to provide emergency-response planning and training for states and Indian tribes. New Challenges Ahead

"As we approach the 21st century, we will be faced with many new challenges, such as the use of new technology in packagings, and in telecommunications and information technology," Coyner said.

"Hazardous materials transportation plays a crucial role in driving a global economy and helping the United States achieve its standard of living," Coyner said. "At the same time, such transportation poses risks to industry workers, the general public, and the environment. The challenge for us will be to maximize hazmat's contribution to the economy while minimizing its safety risks. We look forward to that challenge and are prepared to work with you to sustain a first-class hazardous materials transportation system."

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