Development of an Environmental Hazard Assessment System for the Transport of Hazardous Materials

Focus Area

Environmental Management Systems


Environmental Process




Over $750k


1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

TERI Administrator Note (February 2009):  The concept for this research information need was first developed as a suggested demonstration project in TRB Special Report 283, Cooperative Research for Hazardous Materials Transportation. Refinement of the need has been made to better identify the scope of work. The TRB ad-hoc committee that developed the report utilized input gained through conducting a workshop to seek input from a cross-section of the hazardous materials trade.

Description of the Need
A comprehensive basis for the quantification and ranking of the environmental hazards posed by various materials in transportation is needed. Although the primary system of identifying and classifying hazardous materials is found in the DOT regulations (49CFR), it also incorporates lists of hazardous materials and substances from other agencies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Recent efforts to promote standardization for international transportation into a Global Harmonization System have also contributed to the listing of potentially detrimental commodities. To address potential environmental impacts when in transportation, however, these lists do not comprise an exhaustive listing of potentially harmful commodities from an environmental response and restoration perspective. Commodities commonly transported in bulk such as potash, vegetable oil, and raw milk, pose an environmental risk that is not identified within the existing hazardous material/environmental classification systems.
Research Objective
To evaluate potential environmental impacts of released commodities when in transportation, development of a protocol for evaluating detrimental results is needed. The system would need to evaluate a wide range of commodities against a variety of environmental settings. A standardized set of data requirements, algorithms, and testing criteria would need to be developed for use in analyzing any material of concern. The outcome would be a reasonable prediction of damage to aquatic, plant and animal life expressed in terms of mitigation and restoration expense. An additional outcome would be characterizations of environmental settings that could be most impacted by a release of the commodity. Typical considerations likely to impact the outcome could include amount of the release, soil type, proximity to waterways, drinking water intake locations, and depth to groundwater. 
With a formal protocol established, end users from the production, transportation, and regulatory arenas would have a tool to identify and act upon potential high-hazard environmental settings for a variety of commodities beyond those specified by the collective lists in the current hazardous materials regulations. Matrixing individual commodities or ranges of similar commodities against environmental settings would yield a methodology to locate “hot spots.” These could be incorporated into Geographic Information Systems as themes for analysis. Evaluation of alternative routing decisions or potential staging of mitigation equipment and supplies could be based on the outcome. A further step that could be taken would be a review of the adequacy of the commodity package type. 

Urgency and Payoff

Concerns and political overtones in this arena are on-going such that implementation and resulting payoff could be realized in a short period; however, it should be noted that major transportation incidents are a relatively low frequency event. 

Suggested By

AT040, Transportation of Hazardous Materials Committee, as specified in the TRB Research Needs Database, 2009.