Officials in Mexico recently authorized the transport of non-radioactive hazardous materials across the World Trade Bridge between Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, and Laredo, Texas.
The approval applies to low-risk hazmat waste products, such as used batteries, nickel residues, used brake oil, clinical waste, lamp ballast waste, glass waste, antifreeze liquid, barrels and drums, and waste from zinc, said Edgardo “Gary” Pedraza, president of the Nuevo Laredo Association of Customs Agents.
“It took 19 years to get this,” Pedraza said during a press conference, according to the Spanish language publication Milenio. “It has not been easy. It has been a constant struggle. Every annual meeting in the association, we have been taking up the issue of transporting hazardous waste via the [World Trade Bridge].”
However, officials in Laredo said U.S. authorities have not given them approval to move hazmat waste across the World Trade Bridge.
“Mexico got the okay for hazardous materials, but we on the American side still do not have that authorization in our presidential permit,” city of Laredo spokesperson Rafael Benavides told FreightWaves. “The presidential permit for the World Trade Bridge does not allow the crossing of low-risk hazardous materials.”
The U.S. State Department issued a presidential permit for the World Trade Bridge crossing on October 7, 1994. As part of the permit, hazmat shipments were not allowed on the bridge. Such shipments were also not allowed on Laredo’s other existing bridges at the time.
Instead, hazmat shipments were authorized for the Colombia Solidarity International Bridge, around 10 miles west of downtown Laredo. Since the 1990s, that bridge has handled all northbound and southbound hazmat material traffic crossing the U.S.-Mexico border.
The city of Laredo began the process of seeking an amendment to the presidential permit to allow the transport of non-radioactive hazmat material across the World Trade Bridge in 2007.
In 2014, the U.S. State Department issued an amendment to Laredo’s presidential permit to carry certain hazmat wastes, based on Laredo officials constructing an off-site hazmat containment facility.
The city of Laredo’s $1 million World Trade Bridge Hazardous Material Bridge Span was completed in 2014. The $1.8 million World Trade Bridge Hazardous Material Offsite Containment Facility was completed by Laredo officials in 2016.
The last hurdle for transport of hazmat shipments across the World Trade Bridge is approval from the U.S. State Department.
“The city of Laredo has made contact with the U.S. Department of State Office of Mexican Affairs, but we are not yet sure when this might change,” Benavides said. “However, if granted authorization to proceed with hazmat crossings at World Trade Bridge, it would be for both northbound and southbound traffic.”
While low-risk hazardous materials could soon be transported across the World Trade Bridge, other types of hazmat materials would continue to go through the Columbia Solidarity Bridge, Benavides said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration estimates there are more than 800,000 hazmat shipments every day across the United States and more than 3.1 billion tons are transported each year across the country.
Officials on the U.S. side of the border who have worked on gaining the approval of non-radioactive hazmat shipments across the World Trade Bridge include U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar of Laredo.
In Congress, Cuellar facilitated the required improvements to the World Trade Bridge to reduce the risk associated with crossing and storing hazardous material, as well as enhance the capacity of local officials in dealing with threats of hazardous material incident, according to a statement from his office.
Pedraza said a new hazmat agreement could add up to 300 more daily truck crossings on the World Trade Bridge, where an estimated 14,000 trucks per day cross in both directions, according to the Texas Association of Business.
Nuevo Laredo Mayor Enrique Rivas said hazmat carriers will no longer have to go to the customs office at the Colombia Solidarity International Bridge, which will save money and time.
Some of the hazardous waste in the area is produced by maquiladoras in Nuevo Laredo. However, hazmat materials will also be moving southbound into Mexico from the U.S., officials said.
“It will finally begin after a long wait and much effort. Thanks to the insistence of the governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca, this authorization was obtained through the work of customs agents,” Rivas said, according to the Laredo Morning Times.