Starting March 1, the Phelps/Maries County Health Department will no longer respond to any traffic accidents in the department’s jurisdiction involving the transportation of food, drugs or cosmetics.

Jodi Waltman, director of the health department, said she decided to set the new policy because limitations instated on recovery efforts at traffic incidents by the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) place safety and liability burdens on her department.

After a tractor-trailer with a cargo of peeled onions struck a rock bluff east of Doolittle on Interstate 44 on the evening of Jan. 29, the Missouri State Highway Patrol (MSHP) advised that recovery efforts would be postponed until the following day because of inclement weather and the nature of the accident.

Later, Waltman was informed of a new policy that had been placed by MoDOT regarding recovery efforts of any kind during daylight hours.

MoDOT’s policy states that all recovery efforts must be done between the hours of 7:30 p.m. and 6:30 a.m. and that only extreme, extenuating circumstances will allow recovery efforts to occur during daylight hours and only to the extent of clearing the roadway to eliminate any impediments to motorists.

The maximum time allowed for a lane to be closed on I-44 for emergency response efforts or recovery is two hours, Waltman noted.

Waltman said she believes MoDOT’s policy was made in the interest of protecting motorist safety and preventing secondary accidents.

Capt. Lee Ann Kenley, commanding officer of MSHP Troop I, said she agrees with MoDOT’s policy and that Troop I officials have stated that they would prefer perishable food cargo to be lost rather than create a hazard with recovery efforts, which could lead to a second crash at the site of the first one.

Waltman wrote a letter dated Feb. 7 to the Bureau of Environmental Health Services informing the bureau of her decision.

In the letter, she wrote, “These circumstances place unnecessary safety and liability burdens upon this department.”

Waltman noted that funding over the last five years combined with an increased environmental workload regarding food service inspections, product recalls and an increasing number of transportation incidents required a prioritization and reallocation of the department’s limited resources.

Waltman noted that the department used to respond to an average of six transportation incidents per year, but that number has risen to 12 to 14. Waltman said health department staff work about 12 to 14 hours on a typical traffic incident with recovery efforts.

Waltman told The Rolla Daily News that her department has seen an increase in other environmental work, such as inspections of restaurants, hotels and day care facilities, and feels the inspections of these local establishments should take precedence over transportation recovery efforts.

“Additionally, I am unwilling to subject my staff to the extreme safety hazards which accompany night time recovery operations,” Waltman wrote.

Waltman said her staff will continue to respond to emergency events such as fires, floods, power outages and natural disasters at regulated facilities within the department’s jurisdiction.

After March 1, Waltman said it is her understanding that if an accident with perishable food occurs in the area, the food will not likely be salvaged and instead have to be transported to a transfer station.