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What's In That Tanker?

5:21 PM, May 29, 2013   |    comments
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Undated -- After Tuesday's train derailment and explosion in Maryland, we started asking question about chemicals traveling on our nations highways and train tracks.

According to our news partners at WUSA9, a CSX transportation spokesperson said sodium chlorate in a car derailed the train and the explosion ignited terephthalic acid from another derailed car. According to the Associated Press, sodium chlorate is used as a bleaching agent in paper production.

Sodium chlorate is an oxidizer, and classified as 'hazardous, but not toxic'. So what's the difference? The US Department of Transportation defines a hazardous material as something capable of posing an unreasonable risk to a person's health. Toxic materials can be lethal.

When you think about it, we drive next to tanker trucks driving on I-40 and I-85 every day. And there are miles of train tracks all over the Triad. So how can you know what they're carrying? Look for the symbols.

Anytime a truck or train is carrying chemicals, the container must be marked with a pictogram. According to the US Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health Administration, each pictogram consists of a symbol on a white background framed with a red border. There are nine of them, and they each represent a distinct hazard and the chemical hazards a person may be exposed to.

The Health Hazard looks like a person with a diamond on their chest. The hazards include carcinogens, mutagenicity, reproductive toxicity, respiratory sensitizer, target organ toxicity and aspiration toxicity.

The Flame symbol has a picture of a fire. The chemicals could be  flammables, pyrophorics, self-heating, emit flammable gas, be self-reactive or be organic peroxides.

The Exclamation Mark means an irritant could be in the container. That could include skin and eye irritation, a skin sensitizer, acute toxicity, narcotic effects, respiratory tract irritants or chemicals that could be hazardous to the ozone layer.

A picture of a Gas Cylinder means the container is carrying gases under pressure.

The picture for Corrosion is two test tubes pouring a substance on a hand and a piece of metal. That means the chemicals can lead to skin corrosion and burns, eye damage or can be corrosive to metals.

If you see a diamond with a picture of an Exploding Bomb, you might want to steer clear. That truck or train is carrying explosives, self-reactive products or organic peroxides.

A picture with a Flame over a Circle means they're carrying oxidizers -- like sodium chlorate. An oxidizer is a type of chemical which a fuel requires to burn.

A picture of a tree and a fish means the chemicals can be harmful to the Environment. It could result in aquatic toxicity.

And if you see a Skull and Crossbones, that means whatever is in the container could lead to acute toxicity and be fatal.

For more information, visit the OSHA website.

WFMY News 2/OSHA.gov

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