Transportation of Hazardous Chemicals Institution

Transportation of Hazardous Chemicals

Institution of Learning

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Hazardous chemicals can be defined as any chemical that causes health or physical effects when exposed to humans. Due to the negative effects of these chemicals on man, these chemicals should be transported safely to minimize their contact with humans (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). There are several methods in which these chemicals can be transported safely and are classified according to the medium of transportation. They include; air transport, railway transport, road transport, IWT transport and pipeline transport. Hazardous chemicals comprise of nine classes that include explosives, flammable liquids and solids, radioactive substances, corrosive chemicals among others.

Road transport involves movement of these hazardous chemicals from one point to another, using different vehicles that use roads as their medium. Its biggest advantage can be attributed to the fact that it has high flexibility in transportation of hazardous solids as compared to rail transport (Monczka et al., 2010). Roads are widespread throughout countries to ensure timely delivery of chemicals. This form of transport is faster for short and medium distances than rail transport. Road transport does not require a lot of capital to train required personnel and this property makes it comparatively cheaper than air transport. Consequently, transporting goods by road saves time due to less time required to load and offload the cargo as compared to rail transport.

On the other hand, road transport has some negative effects. The small size of the roads and vehicles dictate the size of cargo to be transported hence, large volume cannot be transported this way. The size and bulk of goods to be carried cannot be increased through addition of wagons which is possible in railway transport (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). In urban areas, increased number of vehicles increase pressure on roads leading to traffic jams. This greatly reduces reliability on road transport. In addition, weather conditions can dictate road transport hence affecting negatively the surety of road transport. In most countries, fog snow and floods lead among the weather conditions that disrupt road transport. Road transport is said to be the most prone to accidents, mode of transport. This is due to increased pressure on roads by the growing number of vehicles in our roads. Due to the high tendency of accidents in roads, explosive chemicals can explode; gaseous chemicals can escape to atmosphere; flammable liquids and solids can catch fire; toxic chemicals, corrosive substances, and radioactive materials get exposed to the environment (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). All the above do lead to loss of lives, injuries, and immense health damage to humans. Vehicles emit exhaust fumes that cause irritations to lungs and eventual lung damage and cancer. These exhaust fumes sometimes cause fog and reduced visibility leading to accidents in the roads. In most countries, laws have been passed that ban movement of hazardous chemicals by road transport because of the great danger they pose to humans (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Oxidizing substances and organic peroxides are the least dangerous to human health among the hazardous chemicals in case of road accidents and can therefore be used as a mode of transport. In addition, miscellaneous hazardous materials which do not cause direct danger to human health in case of accidents can also be transported through road transport means.

Rail transport involves movement of these hazardous chemicals in wagons that use fixed railroads as their medium (Monczka, et al., 2010). Rail transport has numerous advantageous when it comes to hazardous materials. Railway transport is particularly economical in long distance transportation. It facilitates long distance transportation of especially bulky hazardous materials unlike other forms of transport. It is also a more certain mode of transportation as compared to road transport as it is rarely subject to traffic jams. Railway is the safest form of transport providing minimum chances of accident or breakdown present in other forms of transport. Most hazardous chemicals especially explosives require protection from weather aspects like sunlight that can cause explosions and endanger human life. Railway transport provides a basis for cargo protection from exposure to weather conditions like sun, snow, rain and many others. Carrying capacity of railway transport is elastic and can be increased by adding more wagons unlike all the other forms of transport (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Due to these advantages, railway transport can handle very hazardous chemicals that require minimum or nil exposure to weather conditions and man as they are transported in segregated areas. Explosives, flammable solids, radioactive materials, corrosive and toxic materials can use this mode of transport.

This mode of transport has some disadvantages though. One of the greatest challenges is its inflexibility as its routes and timings are fixed and cannot be adjusted to fit individual requirements (Sollish & Semanik, 2011). Also, railway transport is unsuitable and uneconomical over short distances and small traffic of goods. Initially, it requires a large capital to construct and maintain rails and this makes it a very costly mode of transport. Although very rare, accidents are very fatal and dangerous when they occur.

International Warehousing and Transport (IWT) offer total freight management and transportation services. They offer sea freight, rail freight and air freight services. IWT has advantages over other modes of transport. They offer door to door transport and this makes the method more flexible than other forms of transport (Sollish & Semanik, 2011). In addition, they offer customs processing services and cargo tracking to ensure maximum safety of the chemicals to be transported. Miscellaneous hazardous materials are the most likely to be transported through this means.

However, IWT is expensive when compared to rail and road transport. It is also prone to delays as a result of weather effects hence unreliable and undependable. In addition, hazardous chemicals transportation requires special skills making it more expensive and costly.

Air transport, where the hazardous chemicals are moved from one point to another by air, is the fastest form of transport. When it comes to delivering goods over a long distance in less time, there is no other option except air transport. It can therefore ensure delivery of hazardous chemical fast and safely. Air transport does not emphasize on construction of tracks as observed in railway and/or road transport as it uses natural routes. There is no much infrastructure investments required in air transport. It also makes it possible to access certain areas that are not easily accessible by other modes of transport, for example, delivery of these hazardous chemicals to hilly regions is not possible with railway transport (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Hazardous chemicals can therefore be easily be transported anywhere through this mode. Custom formalities are compiled very quickly when it comes to aircrafts and saves time waiting for clearances observed in other modes of transport (Sollish & Semanik, 2011).

However, air transport faces some limitations. It is termed as the riskiest form of transport as a minor accident can lead to great loss of lives and damage of goods. Research shows that ninety nine percent of air accidents cause deaths and damage of goods. Air transport can handle only small quantity of goods and this makes it unsuitable when it comes to movement of bulky hazardous chemicals from one point to another. The size of goods to be carried by air transport cannot be adjusted as in the case of Railway transport. It is also the most expensive mode of transport today. It would require a huge capital investment to construct and maintain aerodromes. It also require a substantial amount of capital to obtain trained, skilled and experienced personnel required to transport goods using air as a medium for transport. Airplanes do not operate in poor visibility areas. Some weather conditions like fog, mist, snow reduce visibility in the air increasing the risk of accidents (Krishnamurthy, 2008). Air transport is therefore unreliable because the changing weather conditions can cause delays and even cancellation of flights. Five percent of flights get cancelled annually as a result of unsuitable weather conditions and this would reduce the dependability of air transport. There is growing concern over pollution in the world today. Airplanes give out exhaust fumes which pollute the atmosphere and later cause airborne diseases to human beings. These diseases include asthma, lung irritations, and cancer. In recent years, exhaust fumes from jets has been linked with interfering with the ozone layer of the earth and as a result, undesirable rays from the sun reach the earth causing skin cancers to human beings. Explosives and easily flammable substances should not be transported through air as they increase the risk of fatality in the already risky situation in case of an accident (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Corrosive and toxic substances can however be transported through air because they do not pose widespread danger in case of accidents.

Pipeline transportation, where liquid, gaseous, or solid products are moved over long distances through pipelines, is used in many countries today. Its greatest advantage over air, road, and even rail transport is due to the fact that it is rarely affected by weather conditions like rain, snow, etc. This is because most of the time, these pipelines run through underground where they are rarely disturbed (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Secondly, pipeline transportation is characterized by absence of freight loss in transit and since it operates in all weather and is therefore reliable. Loading and unloading labor and costs are mechanized and thus lowered. Packaging is not usually done in pipeline transportation and therefore packaging costs are recovered as well. The pipes run through known isolated locations and it is therefore a safe, continuous method of transportation that ensures maximum space utilization and low energy consumption. It is economical and dependable particularly to the strategic areas and also provides a long-term infrastructural option. Due to the continuous nature of this transportation, large amounts of chemicals can be transported within a short time an in the process, difficulties of handling large amount of goods by rail can be solved by pipeline transportation (Office of Technology Assessment, n.d). Research over the recent few years has shown that cost of transporting liquids through pipeline is one third of the cost used in rail transportation.

There are some disadvantages however, of transportation of these chemicals through pipelines. Leakages in the pipelines can sometimes cause great pollution to soil and water (Raven, 2011). Pollution of drinking water by these harmful chemicals poses direct danger to humans who might be depending on this water. Soil pollution also causes great risk to soil life and by extension, human life. In the event of fire, small leaks can cause great destructions in form of life loss and destruction of property. Too much carbon dioxide emissions, from these pipes into the atmosphere cause pollution of air bringing adverse effects on human, animal and plant health (Smith & Petley, 2009). In addition, initial costs to construct these pipelines and maintain them are very high. In case of undetectable leakages, companies can make great losses in terms of chemicals. Flammable liquids and gases are the most suitable class to be transported by this mode of transport.

In conclusion, dangerous chemicals like explosives and flammable substances should be transported by means which reduce their ability to explode and cause fire which in this case is railway transport. Depending on the urgency of transportation, air transport favors small quantities of chemicals that are expensive. Flammable liquids can also be transported by pipeline transportation and less hazardous chemicals should be transported by road.


Krishnamurthy, B. (2008), Environmental Management, PHI Learning Pvt. Ltd., Delhi.

Monczka, al. (2010), Purchasing and Supply Chain Management, Cengage Learning EMEA, Chelmsford.

Office of Technology Assessment, (n.d), Transportation of hazardous materials, DIANE Publishing, Pennsylvania.

Raven, P. (2011), Environment, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Smith, K., & Petley, D (2009), Environmental Hazards: Assessing Risk and Reducing Disaster, Taylor, & Francis, New York.

Sollish, F. & Semanik, J. (2011), Strategic Global Sourcing Best Practices, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

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