HAZMAT is an abbreviation for “hazardous materials”—substances in quantities or forms that may pose a reasonable risk to health, property, or the environment. HAZMATs include such substances as toxic chemicals, fuels, nuclear waste products, and biological, chemical, and radiological agents. HAZMATs may be released as liquids, solids, gases, or a combination or form of all three, including dust, fumes, gas, vapor, mist, and smoke.
HAZMAT spills have caused health problems, injuries, and even death in people and animals, and have damaged buildings, homes, property, and the environment. Given such dire consequences, it is reasonable to conclude that one may not encounter HAZMATs on a daily basis. The truth, however, is that many products containing hazardous chemicals are routinely used and stored in homes, and are transported every day on the nation’s highways, railroads, waterways, and pipelines.
Thousands of incidents occur each year in which HAZMATs are released into the environment as a result of accidents or natural disasters. In addition to potentially harming people and the environment, spills in coastal waters may cause substantial disruption of marine transportation with potential widespread economic impacts. Both coastal and inland spills are called HAZMAT incidents, and are routinely addressed by first responders like firefighters and local law enforcement.
The mission of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is to improve truck and bus safety on our nation’s highways. That includes reducing the number of transportation incidents that involve hazardous materials and could potentially harm the public and the environment. Developing programs to accomplish these goals and increase the safety of hazardous material transportation is the responsibility of the FMCSA Hazardous Materials (HM) Program.