Reefer madness coming ashore?

November 2, 2011

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This past Labor Day weekend, my husband and I spent a quiet early morning hour on River Street in Savannah, Ga. River Street is a hopping place from mid-morning until late night, filled with people, music, and vendors selling hand-crafted items. It's the home of the second largest St. Patrick's Day parade in the world, and while all the activity, restaurants, and shopping can be fun, we welcomed the peace and quiet as we read placards along the riverside that detailed Savannah's history and watched the river.

As we watched, a barge filled with cargo containers stacked several stories high came into view. From our perspective, it eclipsed the hotel and convention center across the river. We wondered aloud how it would maneuver around the ships docked alongside River Street and clear the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge that spans the river. It didn't appear to be all that easy. Others out for an early morning stroll also stopped and watched the event unfold.

Now, many in the Northwest U.S. and other areas of the globe are on the lookout for some containers that have the potential to deliver much more than goods and entertainment.

According to the msnbc.com article "8,000 deadly exploding containers feared on loose," these refrigerated containers known as reefers, have been contaminated with bad coolant, which can become explosive when exposed to oil, even air — at least that’s the working theory — and all have passed through Vietnam since the first of the year.

The Ports of Seattle and Tacoma are working with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU), the Pacific Maritime Association, the group representing the shipping lines, and the U.S. Coast Guard. New procedures have been implemented to quarantine suspect refrigerated containers until it is proved they have not passed through Vietnam since the beginning of 2011, or are determined to be safe.

Although one explosion reportedly took place at the Port of Oakland on Monday, there have been no reports of workers being injured in the U.S. Two workers have been killed in Vietnam and another in Brazil. 

As noted in the article, the ILWU says the danger could extend beyond the ports, if the containers are not stopped at the dock and checked out. "We don’t want this reefer going down the road and exploding next to a mom and her kids," said Chris Peeler, a member of the Labor Relations Committee of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, local 19 in Seattle.

We all have heard stories about unsafe goods coming into the county. Now it sounds as though some of the containers in which they are delivered may also be harmful far beyond the usual issues with cargo containers, such as creating eyesores.

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