Explosives Laws Could Extinguish Fourth Fireworks; Railroads Avoid Legal Risk

Article excerpt

Byline: Tom Ramstack, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The nation's Fourth of July celebrations are being threatened by the railroad industry's refusal to transport fireworks and other explosives.

The industry says the money it makes from hauling explosives is not worth the legal risk under new federal regulations.

The rules, issued in February, would double the number of background checks railroad and other transportation companies must do on employees. The employers could face criminal penalties if unauthorized workers are allowed to handle or transport explosives."The railroads feel it subjects them to potential criminal liability and that's not something they're going to do," said Tom White, spokesman for the Association of American Railroads, the trade group for the nation's largest railroads.

About 80 percent of the nation's commercial explosives are transported by rail. In addition to fireworks, explosives are used, among other things, for mining and civil engineering. They represent a $650 million-a-year industry. Military explosives are exempt from the regulations.

The embargo is damaging the pyrotechnics-display industry during what is normally its busiest time before the Fourth of July, according to the American Pyrotechnics Association. It also is hurting manufacturers in Asia, where many of the best fireworks are produced.

"Our commerce basically came to a halt," said Julie Heckman, executive director of the Bethesda-based association.

At least 23 containers of pyrotechnic-display fireworks are sitting at West Coast ports, Bengt Henriksen, president of the Unaffiliated Shippers of America, said in comments filed with the federal Department of Transportation. The group represents 70 fireworks importers. "If this is not disruption of commerce, I don't know what is," he said.

In response to the rail embargo, fireworks-display companies are being forced to arrange alternate transportation by truck, which is raising their shipping costs by as much as $8,000 per container. Small fireworks-display companies cannot afford the higher costs.

"It's the small guys that really felt the brunt of this," Miss Heckman said.

Felix Grucci, whose family owns the large fireworks-display company Fireworks by Grucci, expects costs to rise because of the impasse. …