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Highlights

More than 3 billion tons of regulated hazardous materials (hazmat)--including explosive, poisonous, corrosive, flammable, and radioactive materials--are transported in the United States each year. When these materials are properly packaged, labeled, and stowed, they can be transported safely, but when they are not, they can pose significant threats to transportation workers, emergency responders, and the general public because of the potential for accidents and incidents. Moreover, since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the security of such shipments, especially those that can be used as weapons of mass destruction, has attracted the attention of the transportation community, government officials, and emergency responders. In the wrong hands, hazardous materials could pose a significant security threat, and it is likely that terrorists who seek to use hazardous materials to harm Americans would move those materials as undeclared shipments. Federal officials are aware that undeclared shipments of hazmat occur and can have serious consequences. Federal hazmat experts believe that the most frequent explanations for undeclared shipments are (1) shipper's lack of knowledge--an unawareness or misunderstanding of the requirements for properly declaring and transporting hazmat--and (2) economic--an attempt to avoid additional costs that may be associated with shipping regulated hazmat, including special placarding, packaging, additional training, and insurance. To the extent that such undeclared shipments are discovered, the discovery typically occurs in one of the following ways: as a result of an accident or incident, during a routine cargo inspection, or when a tip is provided to officials. Two federal departments are involved in discovering undeclared hazmat entering the United States--Homeland Security (DHS) and Transportation (DOT). DHS--primarily through the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection--seeks to ensure the security of hazmat by reducing threats to transportation infrastructure and operations. DOT's Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has the primary responsibility for regulating the safe and secure transportation of hazmat, and other modal administrations--most notably the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Aviation Administration, and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration--are responsible for enforcing compliance with regulations once hazmat has entered the U.S. transportation system. A good understanding of the frequency and impact of undeclared hazmat shipments is essential to identifying the extent of the problem and developing regulations and programs to mitigate the risk involved. The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) requires that we review existing options and determine additional options for discovering the amount of undeclared shipments of hazardous materials entering the United States. To respond to this mandate, this report (1) describes the current federal approach for discovering the amount of undeclared hazmat entering the United States, (2) identifies efforts under way to enhance the existing approach, and (3) determines whether any additional options could be employed.

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