Hazardous chemical trucks checked closely

By Kate Reardon

Herald Writer

EVERETT I-5 WEIGH STATION — Carrying 46,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals through the region doesn’t worry Andrew Griffin. He’s been doing it for more than 20 years.

Griffin was one of the hundreds of truckers hauling hazardous materials around the nation who over the past few days have been subjected to tighter security measures.

Officials from the Washington State Patrol commercial vehicles division on Friday checked Griffin’s records and rig at the southbound I-5 truck weigh station in Everett. Griffin, who was driving an empty truck that had arsenic residue left from a load he had dropped off in Canada, was squeaky clean. He anticipates more checks in coming weeks because of the heightened awareness.

"They were pretty tight at the border," he said.

Griffin and other truckers say they don’t mind the heightened alert.

"Feels like it should have been going on a long time ago," said Griffin, wearing a white T-shirt with an American flag and the saying "United We Stand."

The state of alert remained in effect amid concern that someone might be planning a terrorist attack using one or more of the tens of thousands of 18-wheelers that haul hazardous materials each day across the country.

The heightened alert was triggered by disclosure that FBI agents investigating the Sept. 11 East Coast terrorist attacks had found that 20 Middle Eastern men had obtained fraudulent licenses to transport hazardous materials from a state examiner from Pennsylvania.

State police departments were asked Thursday to "step up awareness on hazardous material vehicles and drivers," State Patrol Trooper Willie Boxhoorn said.

But Boxhoorn said it would be impossible to stop every truck, because the department doesn’t have the manpower to do that. The checks are mainly on driver’s licenses, paperwork and background, Boxhoorn said.

While government officials and trucking industry representatives did not receive any indication of a specific terrorist threat involving hazardous material shipments, the potential for havoc is clear, they said. A gasoline tanker truck carries as much fuel as did each of the jets that were flown into the World Trade Center towers.

In Washington state, 169,401 people have commercial vehicle licenses. About 37,000 of those have special endorsements to carry hazardous materials, said Brad Benfield, spokesman for the state Department of Licensing.

There’s a highway safety issue when people obtain those licenses illegally, he said.

"This type of activity is rare," Benfield said. "This is the first I’ve heard of it."

The same goes for truck driver Bob Bridgman, who was carrying a load of freshly butchered chickens through Everett Thursday when his truck broke down.

Bridgman said the heightened awareness of trucks carrying hazardous materials could cause more stops and waits for truckers, but he said he doesn’t mind too much.

"It’s better than the alternative," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

You can call Herald Writer Kate Reardon at 425-339-3455

or send e-mail to reardon@heraldnet.com.

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