The Hazardous Materials Regulations of the USDOT/PHMSA contain specific requirements for the description of a hazardous material on a shipping paper, known as the Proper shipping Description.  One component of the Proper Shipping Description is the Basic Description; the purpose of which is to – just like the name implies – provide a basic description of the potential hazards presented by a material in transportation.  This article will explain how a change to the order of the Basic Description (effective January 1st, 2013) affects other responsibilities of a HazMat shipper and a possible source of confusion when using the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest for the transportation of a hazardous waste.

As of January 1, 2013 the order to the four elements of the Basic Description changed as indicated below [49 CFR 172.202(b)]:

Optional for domestic transportation of HazMat until December 31, 2012:

The Basic Description

Proper Shipping Name

Hazard Class/Division

Identification Number

Packing Group

Waste Flammable Liquid, n.o.s.

3

UN1993

PG II

Or…

The Basic Description

Identification Number

Proper Shipping Name

Hazard Class

Packing Group

UN 1993

Waste Flammable Liquid, n.o.s.

3

PG II

Mandatory for all HazMat transportation as of January 1, 2013:

The Basic Description

Identification Number

Proper Shipping Name

Hazard Class

Packing Group

UN 1993

Waste Flammable Liquid, n.o.s.

3

PG II

Since the word “Waste” doesn’t appear in the Hazardous Materials Table of 49 CFR 172.101 (with a few exceptions) you may wonder how it wound up as part of the Proper Shipping Name.  Read this earlier article of mine for clarification:  Waste and the Proper Shipping Name for Shipments of Hazardous Waste.

This revision to the HMR was undertaken for two reasons:  (1) To harmonize the USDOT/PHMSA’s domestic regulations with those of international organizations and foreign states, and (2) To ensure critical information (the Identification Number) is clearly visible to first responders in an emergency.

Unfortunately this change to the sequence of the Basic Description has created confusion in two related areas of HazMat communication:

  • The sequence of the markings on a HazMat packaging.
  • The sequence of the Basic Description on a Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest for shipments of hazardous waste.

First, 49 CFR 172.301 specifies the marking requirements for non-bulk packagings of hazardous materials, which must include the Proper Shipping Name and Identification Number of the HazMat as required by the Hazardous Materials Table @ 49 CFR 172.101.  §172.301 does not, however, mandate a sequence to the display of the markings, nor does it reference §172.202(b), which established the sequence of the Basic Description for shipping papers.  So, the change to the order of the Basic Description – mandatory on all HazMat shipping papers – does not affect the appearance of the Proper Shipping Name and Identification Number as a marking on a non-bulk packaging of a hazardous material; which may continue to appear as:  ”Waste Flammable Liquid, n.o.s.  UN1993″

The second area of confusion has to do with the sequence of the Basic Description on the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest.  The manifest is a shipping paper required by both the USEPA (and authorized state) and the USDOT/PHMSA for the transportation of a hazardous waste.  This dual responsibility has led to what may appear to be contradictory information from these two Agencies regarding the sequence to the Basic Description on the Manifest.  This is a confusion I will try to dispel.

Three points must be made clear:

  1. The USDOT/PHMSA is the lead agency for any regulations concerning the transportation of hazardous materials within the US, this includes hazardous waste.
  2. The regulations of the USDOT/PHMSA mandate the sequence of the Basic Description at 49 CFR 172.202(b).
  3. On the Manifest and in the Appendix to 40 CFR 262, the USEPA provides instructions for the completion of the Manifest.

As made clear earlier, the regulations of the USDOT/PHMSA mandate the order of the Basic Description as this [§172.202(b)]:

  1. Identification Number.
  2. Proper Shipping Name.
  3. Hazard Class.
  4. Packing Group

However, the guidance for Item 9b of the Uniform Hazardous Waste Manifest reads:

9b.  U.S. DOT Description (including Proper Shipping Name, Hazard Class, ID Number, and Packing Group (if any))

Sowing additional seeds of confusion are the USEPA Instructions for completion of the Manifest (Appendix to Part 262), where Item 9 reads:

Item 9. U.S. DOT Description (Including Proper Shipping Name, Hazard Class or Division, Identification Number, and Packing Group)

And the instructions for Item 9b:

Item 9b. Enter the U.S. DOT Proper Shipping Name, Hazard Class or Division, Identification Number (UN/NA) and Packing Group for each waste as identified in 49 CFR 172. Include technical name(s) and reportable quantity references, if applicable.

So which is it?  The answer lies in the clarity of the USDOT/PHMSA regulations which mandate a particular sequence to the Basic Description and the ambiguity of the guidance and instructions of the USEPA which imply a particular sequence (now no longer acceptable) but do not mandate a particular sequence in its regulations.  A careful review of the USEPA instructions reveals that at no place does it mandate an order to the Basic Description, though one is implied.

The answer, confirmed by a call to the USDOT/PHMSA HazMat Info Line, is that you must follow the regulations of the USDOT/PHMSA for the transportation of all hazardous materials, which includes hazardous waste.  This means using the sequence to the Basic Description prescribed by the USDOT/PHMSA in the HMR [§172.202(b)].

The transportation of a hazardous waste adds another level of complexity to a routine shipment of a hazardous material due to the presence of the USEPA and its regulations.  Make certain that as a shipper of a hazardous material and a generator of a hazardous waste you are in compliance with both the Hazardous Material Regulations of the USDOT/PHMSA and the hazardous waste (RCRA) regulations of the USEPA.

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