Hazardous materials are comprised of substances that are either flammable or combustible, explosive, toxic, noxious, corrosive, oxidizers or radioactive
Business types that commonly use hazardous materials locally include: hospitals, schools, metal plating and finishing, the aircraft industry, public utilities, cold storage companies, the fuel industries, the communication industry, chemical distributors, research, and high technology firms. Each of these facilities is required to maintain plans for warning, notification, evacuation and site security under various regulations. Hazardous materials incidences are generally associated with transportation accidents or accidents at fixed facilities.
Hazardous materials may also be released as a secondary result of natural disasters such as wild land fire and floods. In either case, building or vehicles can release their hazardous materials inventories when they are structurally compromised or are involved in traffic accidents. Pipelines can be exposed or ruptured from collapsed embankments, road washouts, bridge collapses, and fractures in roadways.
Hazardous materials spills might cause the short term or long term evacuation of an affected area. Depending on the nature of the spill and local weather conditions, residences, businesses, hospitals, schools, nursing homes, and roadways may be evacuated or closed to traffic until cleanup can be affected.
Hazardous materials are transported in St. Louis County by road, rail, boat, air, and pipeline. Transported hazardous materials include materials moving from producers to users, moving between storage and use facilities, and hazardous waste moving from generators to treatment and disposal facilities.
Risks are the greatest in the more populated areas along major transportation routes this would include the Iron Range Communities and the Duluth Urban area. According to the most recent findings at the Minnesota Department of Transportation, more than half of all accidents involving hazardous materials have occurred on state roadways.
There are two major railroad lines that traverse St. Louis County with railroad traffic transporting hazardous materials. These are the BNSF and the DWP railroads. Approximately 11 percent of all statewide transportation incidents involving hazardous material in 2002 were from rail transport, according to Mn/DOT statistics.
St. Louis County has an international airport that serves the regional market for pleasure and business flights connecting primarily to the Minneapolis Airport. This airport further serves as a maintenance base for Northwest Airlines. The Duluth facility is also shared with the Air National Guard. There are 6 municipal airports serving St. Louis County as discussed in the community profile. A variety of flammable liquids and chemicals are stored at these facilities used for the airplanes. Accidents involving aircraft and chemicals related to their operation create a potential situation where hazardous material could be released. In addition, the risk of an incident is further increased by any hazardous cargo that may be brought into the facility for transport.
The Duluth Superior Harbor functions as an international seaport and is the most westerly located seaport in the U.S. connecting to the Atlantic Ocean via the St. Laurence Seaway. Harbor safety is under the jurisdiction of the United States Coast Guard.