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The road to public and environmental safety

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Published: 13Jan2000

Risk management in the transportation of hazardous materials

The transportation and location of hazardous materials originating from Quebec and Ontario are under investigation in McGill’s Faculty of Management by Dr Vedat Verter, a risk-modelling specialist. His research focuses on providing effective support and information for policy makers trying to establish guidelines to improve public and environmental safety. Recent train derailments have raised concern about the potential danger involved in moving certain kinds of cargo around the country.

Hazardous materials such as toxic chemicals, radioactive materials and flammables can be extremely harmful to the environment and human health. As a significant portion of goods transported across the nation are indeed hazardous in nature, populations and the environment are exposed to risks when accidental releases happen. Within the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, Professor Verter estimates that as much as 10 million tons of hazardous materials (known as "hazmats") is transported. About 40 accidents happen every year.

Verter uses carefully constructed models of transport risk assessment to find the "right path" for shipments to follow, so the likelihood of accidents and thus the risks to humans and the environment are minimized. One important element of these models is the insurance cost. For a carrier company, the economic loss in the event of an accident can be very high. Although it is the insurer that bears the direct costs of the accident, the carrier company’s insurance costs will increase drastically as a result. This led Verter to believe that insurance requirements could be used by government agencies as an effective tool in regulating the major players in the hazardous materials transportation industry.

Finding optimal locations for hazmats disposal and storage sites is also part of Vedat Verter’s agenda. While communities often prefer having no such sites in their area, it might be better to have a number of safe storage sites in Canada, rather than having hazmats transported across the land. "A recent study of the disposal of PCB waste originating from Northwest Territories showed that public and environmental safety was maximized when the waste was sent to the Alberta Special Waste Treatment Centre, rather than transported through the province to the United States," explains Verter.

Also considered an expert on facility location, Dr Verter works in the field of supply-chain management, developing tools for industry to establish the best configuration for their production-distribution system industry and identify strategic and optimal plant location and design. He is a member of the Centre for Research and Transport (CRT) and co-director of McGill’s Master’s in Manufacturing Management (MMM), a unique Canadian university program designed around industrial internships to educate the manufacturing managers of tomorrow and prepare them for the global marketplace.