An 'Insurance Policy' Against Disaster: Ihe Transportation Emergency Assistance Plan.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of shipments of hazardous materials move across Canada by road, rail, air, water and pipeline. What risks are involved in their transportation?
Canada's safety record in this area is remarkably good, according to Transport Canada's Transportation of Dangerous Goods (TDG) Directorate. Major spills, releases and explosions are very rare. (From 1990 to 1999, the average yearly number of reportable accidents involving dangerous goods totalled only 395, says TDC in Transport Canada's 1999 Annual Report.)
This enviable safety record is due in no small part to the efforts of the Canadian Chemical Producers' Association (CCPA). For almost 15 years, CCPA -- through its Responsible Care [R] program -- has endeavoured to shield the public and the environment from the unacceptable levels of risk involved in transporting chemical products.
CCPA established the Transportation Emergency Assistance Plan (or TEAP, as it is more commonly known) in 1971. Since then, TEAP has evolved from a telephone assistance service to an actual hands-on response program, with well-trained teams covering the main chemical transportation routes across Canada.
According to Jim Hanna, manager of product integrity at Rohm and Haas Canada Inc. in Toronto, "there was a recognition that chemical shippers couldn't possibly respond in a timely fashion to all their shipments moving across the country, so the largest shippers teamed up to form this mutual aid network to solve that problem for companies both large and small."
Clusters of emergency personnel are strategically placed across the vastness of Canada. Company employees hold down regular jobs within their sites-- engineers, operators, mechanics, environmental coordinators, and so forth. Some sites are large enough to employ full-time ER personnel. However, most of the site people list ER as an 'extra' in their jobs. They are dedicated volunteers who are solidly behind the TEAP concept and willing to undergo up to 40 hours of specialized training every year for a task they might never be called upon to perform. And on those few occasions when they are called into action, they get the job done.
How do the TEAP professionals keep track of the many shipments of hazardous materials in their zones? "We do a simple hazard analysis by conducting a product movement survey once a year, in which we ask our members to send us information on the Schedule XII (Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act) products that are shipped through their regions," Hanna explains. "We stay away from volumes and destinations, because then you're getting into competitive information. "We are concerned only with what the chemical is, the mode of transportation, and the container type. We can prepare for an emergency based on that information alone."
The biggest issue facing TEAP nowadays is human resources, Hanna says. "The network has shrunk over the last 10 years, along with many of our companies. Sometimes, it's a struggle to get everything done that we would like. More companies used to be involved in covering Canada. Nationwide, the same amount of work must now be done by fewer people. This is an ongoing challenge, but we've managed to fill any gaps that have opened up, and I'm optimistic we'll continue to do so."
Going Into Action
When an incident occurs, decisions must be made very quickly. Hanna explains the procedure followed when TEAP's ER teams go into action. "Usually, other emergency agencies are involved first -- provincial environment people, local fire and police services. They would contact the shipper, who would then contact us. We call back to verify that there is indeed an incident and that the person calling is a TEAP member and properly insured.
"Everything happens very fast, with call centres operating 24 hours a day. Then we get the information we need to determine what resources to deploy, and where the problem is, so we can mobilize and respond. We participate in the incident management command structure that is established by the agency in control of the incident at the scene.
"In a fire situation, we'd be standing back, possibly providing technical advice, as fire control by the local fire department is a first priority. If it was strictly a spill or release situation with no fire, we could take some offensive action to plug, dike or contain the release. If a poison gas were leaking from a railcar, the TEAP team would take action to cap that leak, make it safe so a transfer (of the chemical product to a secure container) could occur to remove the hazard altogether."
TEAP personnel must be constantly at the ready. They are expected to respond within six hours to an emergency that may occur anywhere in Canada. "Most of us have pagers on; they're with us 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Hanna says.
Facing the Human Resource Challenge
Rick Young, supervisor of distribution and emergency response at Dow Chemical Canada Inc. in Sarnia, says it is becoming more difficult by the month to keep the pan-Canadian TEAP network going under all the constraints it is facing. However, Young insists that the TEAP network is still strong. The problem lies in "getting the extra things done, like the training programs and standardizing our operating procedures among the teams. It's difficult to get those things done when you have to return to your main job."
Young believes that not enough 'new blood' is being brought in to replenish the current workforce. "That's a problem, but when Methanex made a commitment to operate two regional response centres in British Columbia, that was a big morale booster for us, the fact that we have a new player at the table. We're also looking at bringing some of our voluntary response centres in as partners. This will give us some new blood to work with and support for ongoing projects that we want to speed up. We hope that will take care of our human resource problem."
William F. MacKay, an ER advisor for Imperial Oil's Products & Chemicals Division in Toronto, notes that "as long as the major TEAP companies provide the regional response centres, we can keep TEAP going, but we'll have to look at what would provide a better system." MacKay says a new ER network may soon emerge that won't necessarily be called TEAP but will perform the same function -- only better.
"You can call it TEAP or you can call it something new," he says. "I believe this is the direction in which we're headed. I'm flexible about what the final outcome should look like, but I don't think we're doing enough by just maintaining what we have today. I think TEAP should be seen for what it can be, not for what it is."
TEAP supports the Canadian Emergency Response Contractors Alliance, which brings contractors up to speed on ER management, so they can become a more dominant group out in the field. Most of these companies are primarily involved in waste disposal, but they also deal with spills, leaking drums and related situations. "That ER contractor base is very important, so we need to work closely with them to ensure their procedures are in accordance with what we as chemical producers feel comfortable with," Young notes.
TEAP is also working on a cooperative response team concept in the Sarnia area (often called Chemical Valley due to the large number of chemical plants in the area). Dow, Imperial Oil and NOVA Chemicals Corp. have joined forces to increase their effectiveness in dealing with emergency situations. This strategy reduces the need for personnel, while increasing expertise and expanding the equipment base.
Young agrees that, since TEAP responds to so very few emergency situations (only one or two a year), much effort is required on the part of TEAP members to maintain their vigilance: "Sometimes, it's hard to remain vigilant and be ready to go at any time. We're an insurance policy. It's hard, because the response team members themselves are hands-on, action-oriented people, and to keep up their enthusiasm when they're not actually going out on calls is difficult, no question. In some ways, it's all for the best, but it depends on your point of view. If you're one of those guys who wants to go out there and do things, it can be a frustrating situation."
Despite all the challenges it faces, TEAP has never failed to respond to an incident when called, and no complaint has ever been registered against it.
Harvey Chartrand is a freelance writer whose work has recently appeared in The Globe and Mail and the Notional Post. Chartrand is also the editor of Ottawa Life Magazine.