Hazardous Materials Incidents

Hazardous Materials Incidents

Transportation firms reported more than 14,740 hazardous materials incidents in 2004, a decrease of 8 percent since 19941 (figure 15-7). The number of reported incidents rose 10 percent between 1997 and 1998 and then another 14 percent in 1999, most likely because of an expansion of reporting requirements (box 15-D). The incidents in 2004 resulted in 13 deaths and 289 injuries, compared with annual averages of 22 deaths and 345 injuries between 1994 and 2004.

Highway vehicles transported 53 percent of the tons of hazardous materials shipped in 2002 [2]. In most years between 1994 and 2004, highway incidents caused most of the reported hazardous materials injuries and fatalities (figure 15-8). Exceptions occur in years in which a single incident of another mode results in high numbers of fatalities or injuries. For instance, 110 people were killed when an aircraft crashed in 1996 because of ignited oxygen leaking from improperly stored oxygen generators [1]. Of the 926 injuries attributed to rail incidents in 1996, chlorine released from one train derailment caused 787 injuries in Alberton, Montana [3]. With the exception of similar spikes, injuries generally declined between 1994 and 2004 (figure 15-9).

Environmental contamination can occur as the result of hazardous materials incidents, but data are not routinely collected on the extent of the damage. Their environmental impacts will depend on the concentration and type of material spilled, the location and volume of the spill, and exposure rates.


1. National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB Report AAR-97/06, Docket No. DCA96MA054.

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics and U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002 Commodity Flow Survey, Hazardous Materials (Washington, DC: December 2004), table 1a.

3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Special Programs Administration, personal communication, May 2003.

1 A reported incident is a report of any unintentional release of hazardous materials while in transportation (including loading, unloading, and temporary storage). It excludes pipeline and bulk shipments by water, which are reported separately.