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September 9, 2009 - Unreported Hazmat Spills Go Unpunished

The U.S. government rarely uses its authority to penalize transportation companies that fail to report serious spills of hazardous materials, records indicate.

Few penalties are handed out even though the Department of Transportation says it needs accurate records of spills in order to ensure that hazmat carriers operate safely, USA Today reported Wednesday.

The newspaper said records show that from 2006 to 2008, hazmat carriers failed to report 1,199 "serious" incidents, defined as spills that prompt large-scale evacuations, major road closures or serious injuries -- a total nearly as high as the 1,403 reported incidents -- even though carriers are required to report such spills because they are "directly related to the department's ability to ... protect the public from the inherent hazards associated with (hazmat) transportation."

The unreported incidents are gleaned by the Transportation Department from news accounts and logs from emergency response agencies, records obtained by USA Today show.

U.S. House of Representatives Transportation Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberster, D-Minn., told the newspaper he plans to have hearings over the department's failure to penalize carriers for not reporting hazardous materials spills.

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