CHEMTREC, A Key Hazmat Tool, Expands Its Capabilities

CHEMTREC, A Key Hazmat Tool, Expands Its Capabilities

& Emergency Equipment

Volume XV No. 1 January 2010

CHEMTREC, A Key Hazmat Tool, Expands Its Capabilities


From the outside, CHEMTREC

remains stone simple: Emergency

responders just dial 800-424-9300 for

24/7 expert assistance identifying hazardous

materials and mitigating hazmat


But on the inside, CHEMTREC, the

Chemical Transportation Emergency

Center, has steadily grown in capabilities

and sophistication – exploring new

technologies, reaching out to other

countries, building stronger bridges to

chemical manufacturers and shippers,

and even helping the U.S. military.

CHEMTREC was established in 1971

by the Chemical Manufacturers Association

(now the American Chemistry

Council) to provide assistance with hazmat



What has helped keep the center

financially stable for about half of its

nearly four decades in operation is a

1990 U.S. Department of Transportation

mandate that all shippers of hazardous

materials provide an emergency

phone number for use in case of an incident

involving their products. Many

companies found that it was cost-effective

to contract with CHEMTREC to

provide this service (about 24,000 shippers

are currently registered with

CHEMTREC). Over the years responders

benefited from having so much

hazmat expertise built up in one place.

That expertise includes almost 5

million material safety data sheets and

what CHEMTREC says is the world’s

largest on-call network of chemical,

medical, toxicological and hazmat

experts. In addition, CHEMTREC can

reach back directly to a product’s manufacturer;

in a few cases, responders

have gotten information from the

chemist in charge of producing

the material that was involved in

an incident.

On average, the center receives about

350 calls a day in reference to about 125

Anthony Campos, a CHEMTREC emergency service specialist, at work.

incidents, said Randy Speight,

CHEMTREC’s managing director.

A normal 12-hour watch in the

CHEMTREC operations center is staffed

with three emergency service specialists

(ESSs) and one watch supervisor. Each

watch rotates one shift on and three off,

and two ESSs and two ops center managers

are available as floaters or to supplement

a watch during high-volume

periods, typically during the day.

Experience And Training

CHEMTREC is putting increased

emphasis on training for their ESSs,

Speight said. Baseline training involves

three to six months before an ESS goes

on duty and starts answering the

phone. ESSs ideally have hazmat experience

and their ranks include retired

and current firefighters and personnel

with military explosive ordnance disposal


Both experience and training are

important in the ESS role, which connects

everyone who has a stake in a hazmat

incident: responders, manufacturers,

shippers, carriers, consignees,

government agencies and emergency

response contractors.

“One of our jobs,” Speight said, “is

to take all the bits and pieces we get

from the responders and work out all

the details.”

One of CHEMTREC’s most pressing

current issues, Speight said, centers on

imports of hazardous chemicals into the

United States, which have increased

steadily since 1989.

CHEMTREC has noticed difficulties

getting information about some international

shipments, often because U.S.

requirements for packaging and labeling

the chemicals aren’t being followed.

Speight said it isn’t always clear

whether a foreign shipper is ignoring

the regulations or is just unfamiliar

with them, but either way it’s a potentially

dangerous situation for responders

and the public.

Educating Shippers

That’s why CHEMTREC recently

began setting up a campaign to educate

foreign hazmat shippers about U.S. documentation

requirements and the man-

Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment - January 2010 2

date to provide an emergency access

number. The program started in the Far

East and will ramp up in 2010, Speight

said. Fortunately, a growing number of

foreign shippers have registered with

CHEMTREC, he said.

CHEMTREC has also worked with

federal transportation officials to open

up venues for educating overseas shippers,

so far making presentations in

Malaysia, Argentina, South Korea and

Hungary. The center also organized an

international emergency response summit

in Miami in 2006.

Speight said that CHEMTREC has

offered to help set up CHEMTREC-like

organizations in other countries, but

many of those countries, particularly on

the Pacific Rim, are so focused on natural

disasters that they don’t have the

resources to do so.

The other side of the global trade coin is

chemical exports. U.S. shippers sometimes

want CHEMTREC to provide a

similar service overseas, Speight said.

CHEMTREC recently signed memoranda

of agreement with organizations in Chile,

Colombia and Argentina for mutual assistance,

he said, and is looking for similar

partnerships around the world. The center

also has a similar agreement with the

Swedish Rescue Services Agency.

On a different front, CHEMTREC is

working with various partners to overcome

the limitations of what is still primarily

a paper-based system of documenting

hazmat shipments.

“Shipping documents are becoming

more complicated,” Speight said, and

what makes that more of a problem is

that neither the format of the individual

documents (such as bills of lading)

nor the overall package of documents

is standardized.

Electronic Documentation

Other problems, too, crop up, such as

documents showing the name of a

third-party logistics company rather

than the name of the actual shipper or

manufacturer. In other cases, the shipper

provides only the required “proper

shipping name” in the documentation,

instead of the specific product name.

Though a designation such as “resin

solution” may be enough to mitigate the

hazard, Speight said more information

is always useful.

Although he cautions that electronic

documentation could be subject to

some of the same limitations as paper

documentation, formats such as Electronic

Data Interchange (EDI) do offer

potential for streamlining shipping documents

and helping responders.

In mid-October DOT officials convened

a two-day meeting with

CHEMTREC and numerous other

stakeholders about an electronic shipping

documentation initiative. The

project, known as Hazardous Materials

Automated Cargo Communication for

Efficient and Safe Shipping (HM-

ACCESS), will explore whether EDI and

similar technologies could usefully supplement

the current paper-based system.

A demonstration project is

planned. For information, go to

h t t p : / / h a z m a t . d o t . g o v / H M -


A Phenomenal System

Electronic access to data is moving forward

elsewhere, too. Speight noted that

railroad access to individual rail car

numbers has been around a long time,

but that faxing a thick train consist – a list

of cars and their contents – to responders

on scene isn’t all that practical.

On average, the center

receives about 350 calls

a day in reference to

about 125 incidents.

About five years ago, CSX Transportation,

a Class I railroad, a category that

comprises the biggest ones, offered to

automate that data exchange and set up

a Web-based system that can start with a

car number, or a train number or location,

and within 20 to 30 minutes provide

a schematic of the train.

“It’s a phenomenal system,” Speight

enthused. “The beauty of this is that it

shows me the whole train.”

The partners are now in the process of

upgrading the system to include data

from Google Earth, which might help

identify nearby hazards and occupancies.

About two years ago, DOT funded a

similar system for short-line railroads.

And Hapag-Lloyd, a major German

shipping line, has a comparable system

that lets CHEMTREC pull up intermodal

cargo container contents based

on the container number.

Another project is under way

between CHEMTREC and industrial

giant Dow Chemical Co. Under an initiative

established in 2007, Dow will

work with CHEMTREC to enhance rail

car tracking and the sharing of information

about rail shipments, focusing

on chemicals that are toxic inhalation

hazards (TIH), such as chlorine and

anhydrous ammonia.

The tank cars in Dow’s TIH fleet are

gradually being fitted with GPS

receivers and with sensors that will indicate

when a car’s dome is open or

closed. Dow has geomapped its own

loading facilities and its customers’ locations,

so false alarms – when a dome is

open legitimately – can be avoided.

Issues such as battery life and the sensor

performance when subjected to the

vibration and jolting of a freight train

will be monitored. Eventually other sensors

will be added, including accelerometers,

sniffers and temperature and pressure

sensors, which could potentially

provide near-instant information about

a derailment or leak.

CHEMTREC is also taking care of

its own house. The center will be moving

its offices and operations center

within the District of Columbia next

summer, Speight said, and will be

enhancing its own continuity of operations

and disaster recovery capabilities

as part of the move.

A Call From Afghanistan

Finally, in an example of

CHEMTREC’s increasingly global

reach, the center recently provided assistance

to a unit of the 10th Mountain

Division serving in Afghanistan that was

facing a hazmat situation. Speight said

he wasn’t at liberty to give details, other

than to say the commander on scene

wasn’t satisfied with the information he

was getting through normal channels, so

he called CHEMTREC.

As it happened, the ESS who

answered the phone was ex-Navy, and

the chemist who was on call had a contact

at the Air Force. Using these various

connections, the impromptu team

quickly put together a containment/mitigation

plan that resolved the

Army’s problem half a world away.

“It’s not unusual that we get these

calls,” said Speight.

It was just another example of a very

simple way he described CHEMTREC’s

mission: “We don’t want any responder

to be without assistance.”

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