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Land-Use Development Guide for Hazardous Materials Transportation


Hazardous materials are transported every day in huge quantities through pipelines, on ships and barges, on trains, and by motor vehicles throughout the United States. While many of these materials are ubiquitous to everyday life, such as cosmetics, household products and other personal-use items, many present significant risks in transportation. Facilities that produce, use, or transport hazardous materials are often located near transportation infrastructure, such as highways, ports and railways to facilitate efficiency. Risk assessments are often conducted to determine optimal transportation routes and methods to minimize exposure to population centers, sensitive populations and environments(e.g. protected Federal lands including Tribal lands, etc.), and critical infrastructure. Appropriately, many of these facilities were initially located far from population centers. But today there are numerous instances where land use planners and zoning administrators are allowing or even encouraging encroachment on hazardous material transportation corridors and facilities with inappropriate development. This encroachment greatly elevates the risk from hazardous material release events and short- and long-term exposure associated with routine hazardous materials facility and transport operations (i.e. air and water discharges, airborne dusts, and site contamination).

The elevated risk centers on time and distance relative to the consequences of a release. When a release event occurs, populations that may be impacted have two protective options available to them, shelter-in-place or evacuation. Both options take time to complete and includes time for local responders to arrive at the scene, assess the situation, determine an effective course of action, communicate with the public, and then implement the best response and protection option. In many scenarios, the event will be well underway or sometimes even over before local responders arrive and have any opportunity to act, causing some populations to act on their own discretion. Even where a population has been trained on discretionary protective actions, they may not have time to act. Evacuation through an active toxic gas plume will have dire outcomes and sheltering for some distance out from the source will not be protective because the impacts immediately overwhelm the protective capacity of most any building. Due to these facts, there is a distance surrounding hazardous material facilities and transportation corridors where development needs to be limited simply because it is too close to the worst of the impacts of a potential event, regardless of what protective choices are made.

Several examples will help reinforce the concern:

1) April 2013: West Texas explosion of ammonium nitrate with 12 dead and where among other damages, the explosion destroyed a middle school, a nursing home and apartment complex that were built effectively next door.

2) July 2013: Rail disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada with 42 dead and five missing, were a crude oil explosion was caused by a derailed unit train of crude oil and subsequent fire on a rail line in the heart of the historic village. The 0.6-mile radius explosion and fire destroyed 30 buildings outright, and 36 more had to be demolished. Of 69 buildings, only three survived.

3) July 2012: Near miss in Wake Forrest, North Carolina where a charter school was surrounded by a cloud of 100% nitrogen gas from a nearby air separation plant. Had the event occurred on a weekday, there likely would have been 90 fatalities of students, teachers, and administrators of the school. The facility was built in an agricultural area in the 1980s and successive development has surrounded the facility with 8 schools, an assisted living facility, and high-density residential apartments.

Land-use planning officials in most communities throughout the United States have no effective means of identifying the distance from high risk hazardous materials corridors or facilities within which it would be unsafe for some types of development, particularly those involving high-intensity land uses, dense or sensitive populations, or critical infrastructure. What is needed is a planning tool that would identify the zone surrounding hazardous materials transportation corridors and facilities that would trigger a review of the existing hazards and risks and subsequent increases in risk from proposed land-use decisions.

Guidance for local governments on hazardous materials risk assessment and land-use decision making is sparse or absent all together. The Department of Transportation’s North American Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is often referred to as it contains protective action and isolation distances for hazardous materials in the event of an active transportation spill, but the list of chemicals on table 1 is far too brief, and the guide pages are far to general. The ERG does not include hazard identification (i.e. a commodity flow), risk assessment, and other guidance pertinent to a process to determine a recommendation relevant to land use planning. Therefore, national guidance is needed to help aid in community land-use decision-making where hazardous materials are ever-present.


Develop a hazardous materials guidebook for local land use planners and zoning administrators to aid in decision making. The guidebook would be used when evaluating community and transportation development plans and zoning/ re-zoning proposals for land uses near transportation corridors and facilities where hazardous materials are often in transportation, use, or production. The guidebook would detail a process that communities could use to determine land-use recommendations (i.e. appropriate buffer) based on the risk and proximity to fixed chemical facilities and hazardous materials transportation corridors. The process would inform land-use decisions at the local level and enable voluntary choices to avoid or mitigate risk. The process could also be used to aid in decision-making for transportation projects near protected Federal lands including Tribal lands.


As existing communities continue to grow, land use planning decisions will play a greater role in influencing the consequence factor of the risk equation for hazardous materials transportation. Overnight (boom town) communities such as Williston, North Dakota would have an immediate and urgent need for additional guidance on land use as it relates to hazardous materials obtained through mining and fracking activities (oil, natural gas). Established communities are also making critical land use planning decisions everyday that could impact transportation safety in both the short term and long term.

Related Research:

Recently the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR) launched the Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education Program (CSPECE) https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/safeplacesforece/index.html. The purpose of this program is to provide guidance to community planners on where to locate daycares, schools, and other early education facilities to reduce risk of exposure to hazardous materials and chemicals. It provides a very good framework for developing and managing a CSPECE program within a community. However, the scope and guidance are limited. It does not fully address transportation corridors, nor does it give specific guidance and recommendations on siting distances or criteria based on specific hazardous chemical properties.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) also maintains information and recommendations on land-use in relation to pipelines as part of the Pipeline and Informed Planning Alliance (PIPA) program. Again, this guidance is limited in scope and this proposed research would help bring together these recommendations into a single approach that would be relevant for all types of transportation corridors, facility types, and community contexts.

There are also numerous transportation and community planning guides developed by TRB and other organizations related to developing smart and efficient transportation to facilitate the movement of people and goods, however, in most instances, this guidance does not include detailed considerations related to protection of the community as it relates to the transportation of hazardous materials.


Task 1 – Conduct a literature search and contact relevant stakeholders to identify best practices for land use planning as it relates to hazardous materials transportation and fixed facilities.

Task 2 – Develop a methodology for assigning recommended distances for zoning based on the proximity of transportation corridors and fixed facilities involved with hazardous materials. The methodology will take into account local hazard identification, environmental site assessments, risk assessments, and existing development, when applicable. The methodology will also be specific to the physical and chemical hazards likely to be transported, used, or produced in the community.

Task 3 – Validate methodology developed in Task 2 with relevant stakeholders including federal agencies such as Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (CDC/ATSDR), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and the American Planning Association (APA).

Task 4 – Develop comprehensive guidebook for land use planning as it relates to hazardous material transportation and fixed facilities. The guidebook will include detailed instruction on hazard identification (i.e. commodity flow), risk assessment techniques, and hazardous material specific guidance for land use planning.

Task 5 – Create a plan for peer review including the identification of relevant stakeholders and construction of a peer review group to facilitate acceptance and implementation of the guidebook developed in Task 4.

Task 6 – Develop a final report detailing the research effort. The final report will also include the comprehensive guidebook as an attachment.


Emergency Response Planners, Transportation and Community Planners

Sponsoring Committee:AT040, Transportation of Hazardous Materials
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Richard Bornhorst, John Steinauer
Source Info:Committee on the Transportation of Hazardous Materials
Date Posted:10/30/2018
Date Modified:11/06/2018
Index Terms:Environmental risk assessment, Risk management, Land use planning, Land use, Hazardous materials, Hazard evaluation,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Freight Transportation
Planning and Forecasting

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