Feds Finish Safety Visits

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration inspectors were expected to complete a massive safety review of hazardous materials carriers last month, according to Mike Thomas, media specialist with FMCSA’s Southern service center in Atlanta.

The safety visits, part of the government’s response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, began Sept. 26 after U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft issued a warning stating there was a “clear and present danger” of more terrorist attacks, and that these attacks could involve trucks carrying hazardous materials.

As a result of those concerns, FMCSA called on 11,000 hazmat carriers to check their safety practices, record-keeping and security plans. “If they are registered as a [hazmat] carrier in our database, then we visited them,” Thomas said.

The program was “very successful from our point of view,” according to Thomas. “We had between 85 and 100 findings of suspicious activities which we referred to the local FBI offices.”

Thomas said the suspicious activities included things such as obtaining fraudulent commercial driver’s licenses, and a lack of proper security procedures. The review also involved checks on between 2.5 million and 3 million CDL holders.

Guilty plea in CDL fraud case
In a separate case, on Dec. 14 an Iraqi immigrant was the first person to plead guilty in a hazmat endorsement scheme in Pennsylvania. Alawi Al-Baraa, 33, was one of about 20 men of Middle Eastern descent among dozens of other people involved in the scam. He pleaded guilty to one count of fraudulently obtaining a federal identification document, in this case a Pennsylvania CDL allowing the bearer to transport hazardous materials.

Federal authorities say the men are not linked to any terrorist plot, but are part of a standard-issue CDL fraud ring. Former Pennsylvania DOT license examiner Robert Ferrari Sr. was indicted by a federal grand jury in October and also faces state charges alleging he took money from Al-Baraa and others in exchange for hazmat CDLs.

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Hazmat tanks recalled
Regulators continued their crackdown on hazmat carriers on another front when they filed a notice Dec. 12 calling for the removal of 300 cargo tanks from hazmat service. The tanks, manufactured by Bulk Truck and Transport, Hanover, Ind., and Eagle Fabrication and Repair, Oak Harbor, Ohio, are equipped with rear-end protection devices that do not comply with federal specs for hazardous materials cargo tanks, according to FMCSA.

‘Skunk water’ spill brings fine
In another recent hazmat case of note, a 51-year-old trucker from West Virginia was sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to pay $12,030 in cleanup costs after pleading guilty to a federal charge of failure to report a hazardous waste release. Russell Moneypenny left the scene after his truck leaked about 30 gallons of “skunk water,” a highly flammable solution containing methanol, benzene and other substances, onto I-64 in downtown Charleston. He also failed to notify authorities of the leak, which is required by federal law.