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Students study flow of hazardous materials through region

A group of WKU graduate and undergraduate students from the Masters of Public Health and Environmental Health Science programs collaborated with the Warren County Local Emergency Planning Commission (LEPC), part of Warren County Emergency Management, to study the flow of hazardous materials through the region.

Hazardous materials are a concern for the South Central Region of Kentucky, a primary thoroughfare for transport for both passenger vehicles and commercial goods throughout the nation. The commodity flow study was the result of guidance from two faculty in the WKU Department of Public Health, Dr. Vijay Golla and Dr. Ritchie Taylor, who also served as research directors, and Bob Myatt, Director of the Warren County LEPC.

The study assesses the types of hazardous materials being transported through Warren County by road and rail, and shipped to and from industries.   “This information is extremely important to local emergency management as the plan emergency responses to hazardous materials incidents,” Dr. Taylor said.

Students from WKU’s Department of Public Health conducted the study of hazardous material transport in the I-65, Natcher Parkway, and Warren County corridor, this past summer.  Faculty and student researchers worked with the Kentucky and Tennessee Departments of Transportation and Warren County Parks and Recreation to facilitate data collection.  Students made observations of hazardous material transport at the truck scales in Franklin, Ky., and Portland, Tenn., along Interstate I-65, at Basil Griffin Park in Warren County for William Natcher Parkway, and from the WKU Campus for railroad observations in Bowling Green.

In addition to the student data collection, the Warren County LEPC administered a questionnaire to fixed facilities in Warren County to assess transport of hazardous materials to and from local industries.  The data included identification of the most common hazardous materials transported, times and days of shipment, and mode of transportation used. Students also studied incident reports collected by the LEPC from 2004-2010. The incidents were for hazardous material releases, due to transportation accidents, on I-65 and the Natcher Parkway.

Graduate students involved were Rasmi Nair of Pune, India; Shailesh Advani and Pragtai Gole of Mumbai, India; and Nate Willis of Conway, Ark. Undergraduate students involved were Jacqueline Brown of Smiths Grove and Ellen Barringer of Louisville.

“This was a great opportunity for the students to take what they have learned in the classroom and apply it in a real world project to help their local community,” Dr. Taylor said.

Students analyzed the data and completed a final report that was submitted to the Warren County LEPC. The report contains information on the five-year history of hazardous material incidents in the Warren County transportation corridor, analysis of hazardous material truck frequency and common hazardous material carried through observed routes. The report also includes a list of recommendations based on results of the data analysis with reference to emergency preparedness and training of emergency management personnel.

“The Kentucky Division of Emergency Management sponsored the commodity flow study and has reviewed the results with positive feedback,” Dr. Taylor said.

WKU’s student researchers hope the study will give new insights into the hazardous materials transport load and will assist in emergency preparedness. It is also expected to increase public awareness of hazardous materials and the processes used to keep the public safe from them, as awareness is always an essential component in public health protection.

Lastly, students are taking the project a step further this fall.  Nair, a Master of Public Health Student, is using the data from the commodity flow study to conduct a risk assessment of hazardous material transport near Bowling Green.  She is working to identify the materials, locations and conditions that may pose the greatest risks to public health.  Once this assessment is completed it can be used to develop hazardous material training scenarios for emergency responders.

Contact: Ritchie Taylor, (270) 745-8975.

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