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Another Tanker Spillage

(August 1978)

From Militant, No. 418, 11 August 1978, p. 6.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The news last week that a tanker carrying 38 tons of highly inflammable propane gas jack-knifed and overturned in a densely populated area at Loughton, Essex, once again highlights the dangers of transporting hazardous and highly explosive chemicals by road.

In the Loughton accident, one of the three gas cylinders ruptured – and it was only sheer chance that a major catastrophe like the ones in Spain and Mexico two weeks ago was averted.

In both disasters, tankers carrying liquefied gas exploded on collision and sent fireballs together with a rain of ignited liquid over a wide area. It only took a matter of seconds to incinerate hundreds of people and hideously burn thousands.

In the Mexican holocaust, people as far away as ten miles away suffered burns as the wind diffused the gas which detonated with the slightest friction.

This latest accident, following a number of serious mishaps in the last week alone in which many people were treated for formaldehyde, methanol and chlorine poisoning has provoked widespread indignation – especially when it was revealed that the local village could have been wiped out had the gas ignited.

The driver of the tanker, moreover, compounded the fears of the residents by saying that he knew that the accident would happen some day. He went on to say that the company has had a number of such accidents in the past!

It is hardly surprising that there is such a high frequency of accidents involving chemical containers when 41% of all petroleum products are sent by road. These are in addition to other highly toxic and noxious chemicals like ammonia, chlorine and sulphuric acid.

Even more surprising, there is at present no compulsory system for identifying the chemical in case of spillage, nor standard methods for treating and rendering harmless, and above all guidance for treatment of people exposed and overcome by fumes.

The present signs say nothing of the poisonous nature of the chemical, that is whether it damages the nervous system or is a cumulative poison, its antidote, and above all how to neutralise and dispose in case of spillage.

The labour and trade union movement must take up the fight for initially a re-routing of dangerous chemicals from densely populated areas, until a safe method of transportation system can be introduced and for a more effective labelling system.

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