Is it time to ban these dangers?

17 / 04 / 2014

  • Nigel Tomkins, managing director

    Nigel Tomkins, managing director

I HAZARD no apologies for repeating here something we published on only a few days ago.

For readers who missed it, New York-based shipper Alfa Chemistry has been hit by a possible US$325,000 fine after it allegedly sent two separate shipments of toxic, flammable cargo by air.

The US Department of Transportation’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is proposing the civil penalty after the company shipped approximately one pint of acrolein on one FedEx flight, and a further three pints on another, reveals the FAA, after an investigation.

An acrylic acid, acrolein is described by chemists as a colourless liquid with a piercing, disagreeable, acrid smell. It can become explosive when combined with air and is classified as a highly toxic/poisonous material and a flammable liquid under hazardous materials regulations.

“When FedEx personnel tried to inspect the second shipment of acrolein at the FedEx sort facility in Peabody, Massachusetts, it began emitting a strong, pungent odour,” says an FAA statement.

Staff were unable to examine it because they started to experience coughing fits and extreme eye, nose and throat irritation due to the severity of the odour and vapours coming from the shipment.

A FedEx employee even had to put on a protective suit to further inspect the package, I understand.

The FAA later determined that neither air cargo shipment had the required shipping papers or the necessary emergency response information. 

It is claimed that the shipments were not labeled or packaged according to strict government regulations.

Additionally, the FAA determined that Alfa Chemistry failed to properly train and test the employees who packaged the acrolein. Alfa was given 30 days to contest the ruling.

It’s hard to imagine how these types of incidents happen in today’s air cargo environment, with so much focus on security and safety.

I question how the size of the proposed penalty was decided – and wonder if there is a case for banning such perilous commodities from the air transport business altogether.