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WKU graduate students study flow of hazardous materials in Louisville

A group of WKU graduate students from the Master of Public Health and Environmental Health programs collaborated with the Louisville/Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency to study the flow of hazardous materials through the region.

Hazardous materials are a concern for Louisville and Jefferson County as several primary thoroughfares, for both passenger vehicles and commercial goods, traverse this region of Kentucky. The commodity flow study was the result of a grant acquired by two faculty in the WKU Department of Public Health, Dr. Vijay Golla and Dr. Ritchie Taylor, who also served as research directors, and Jim Bottom, Technological Hazards Coordinator of the Louisville/Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency.

The study, completed in August, assessed the types of hazardous materials being transported through Louisville and Jefferson County by road, shipped to and from industries, and evaluated highway incidents involving hazardous materials.

“This information is extremely important to local emergency management to prepare for emergency responses to hazardous materials incidents,” Dr. Taylor said.

Students from WKU’s Department of Public Health conducted the study of hazardous material transport along I-65, I-71, I-64, and the Gene Snyder Freeway in the Jefferson County corridor this past summer.  Faculty and student researchers worked with the Kentucky Department of Transportation and local businesses to facilitate data collection.  Students made observations of hazardous material transport at strategic locations.

In addition to the monitoring data collected, WKU researchers assisted the Louisville/Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency in developing a questionnaire for the fixed facilities in Jefferson 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.

Students also studied incident reports for Jefferson County to assess locations most susceptible for hazardous material spills. The incidents were for hazardous material releases, due to transportation accidents.

Graduate students involved were Roni Grigsby of Bowling Green; Prachi Chavan of Mumbai, India; Jacob Eagleson of Evansville; and Jonathan Suhl of Rochester, Ill.

A final report of the study was submitted to the Louisville/Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency on Sept. 19. The report contains information on the five-year history of hazardous material incidents in the Jefferson 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.  We will present the results at a meeting to be held in October,” 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.

Professors and students are taking the project a step further this fall.  Data from the commodity flow study will be used to develop a paper that compares results of commodity flow studies that have occurred in Kentucky over the past three years.  In addition, a risk assessment of hazardous material incidents will be conducted.  Students will work 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.

“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 a community in Kentucky,” Dr. Taylor said.

The current study sets an even greater precedence for research being conducted by Dr. Golla and Dr. Taylor to develop an automated hazardous material monitoring system.  Development of the automated system is a joint venture between WKU and EWA Government Systems Inc. known as Haz Watch, LLC, and is an example of the work in progress at the WKU Center for Research and Development.

Contact: Ritchie Taylor, (270) 745-8975; or Vijay Golla, (270) 745-2448.

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