Robyn Benson, PSAC

Communities in the dangerous dark


The latest unsettling news about the Lac-Mégantic disaster is that the contents of the cars were mislabelled. The crude oil was “misidentified as a less volatile substance,” says the Transportation Safety Board—which explains why the contents caught fire so quickly. This mislabelling, we are told by one expert, is “routine.”

One of Transport Minister Linda Raitt’s officials, Don Ross of the Transportation Safety Board—the lead investigator of the disaster—suggests that this just might be a serious problem:

“The packing group [indicating degree of volatility] was one of the considerations in selecting a container, which also calls into question the adequacy of Class 111 tank cars when transporting large quantities of low-flashpoint flammable liquids.”

Indeed it does. These DOT-111 tank cars have a poor record; the US National Transportation Safety Board has been warning for some time that they almost always breach on derailment. When they are carrying something with the same volatility as gasoline, the results of a catastrophic derailment are hardly surprising.

Well, now for the good news. The folks responsible for the mislabelling may be fined. And the dangerous Dot-111 cars will be replaced at some point with spanking new ones. There are likely to be new rules about braking, and leaving a trainful of flammable substances unattended on a main track. And then life—except, of course, for the 47 dead in Lac-Mégantic—will go on.

But now we learn that the Harper government is not yet ready to inform people of exactly what is in the tanker cars rumbling through their towns. Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt, we are told, is aware of provincial concerns but is not ready to “commit to the idea.”

Mislabelling dangerous goods is bad enough. Raitt’s refusal to alert local officials when dangerous materials are passing through their villages, towns and cities, however, affects the inhabitants of every municipality in Canada with a level crossing. Her knee-jerk fondness for secrecy, so typical of the government in which she serves, runs directly counter to the public interest. Enough: it’s time to turn on the lights.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on September 27, 2013 8:38 AM.

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