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“Emptying” a Hazardous Material Packaging

“Emptying” a Hazardous Material Packaging

In the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) at 49 CFR 173.29(a) you learn that as far as the PHMSA/USDOT is concerned, the transportation in commerce of an “empty” packaging that still contains the residue of a hazardous material is subject to the same regulations as when it was full.

Except as otherwise provided in this section, an empty packaging containing only the residue of a hazardous material shall be offered for transportation and transported in the same manner as when it previously contained a greater quantity of that hazardous material.

The regulation also identifies an exception to full regulation under the HMR for “empty” packagings with hazardous material residue and identifies the standards to be met in order for a packaging to be considered free of any hazard and therefore not subject to any of the HMR.

An earlier article explained in more detail the Empty Packaging Exception to the HMR.  It allows some relief from the HMR when shipping a packaging with HazMat residue.

Another option revealed in §173.29 is to – by one of two methods – remove or eliminate the hazard from the packaging, and thereby preclude the need for compliance with the HMR; this will require one of the following:

  1. Ensure the packaging is sufficiently cleaned of residue and purged of vapors to remove any potential hazard, or;
  2. Refill the packaging with a material which is not hazardous to such an extent that any residue remaining in the packaging no longer poses a hazard.

These regulations are intentionally not defined by the PHMSA due to the varying nature of hazardous materials and the many types of packagings available (02-0012).  According to the PHMSA, in some instances, a packaging can be totally emptied of hazardous material, including residue, without undergoing a cleaning process, and may be considered “cleaned and purged”.  In other instances, an active cleaning process may be necessary to purge a packaging of hazardous residue.  The PHMSA does not endorse a particular cleaning product or procedure for cleaning and purging.

The same vagueness is found in the option to refill the packaging so that the residue, “…no longer poses a hazard.”  No measures to achieve this goal are specified and the responsibility to determine compliance remains with you as the shipper.  This might be accomplished by refilling a packaging that contains the residue of a flammable liquid (Hazard Class 3) with a non-flammable liquid or adding a buffered solution to the residue of a corrosive.

Whatever method you choose, the determination of whether or not your packaging (everything from 55-gallon drums, to IBC’s, to 12,000-gallon railroad tank cars) has all of its hazards removed and is no longer subject to the HMR is up to you as the shipper.

In either case, if no hazardous material remains in the packaging meeting the definition of a hazard class as identified at 49 CFR 173.2; then you must also remove, obliterate, or securely cover in transportation all HazMat labels & markings that identify the packaging as a hazardous material.

Sometimes the regulations are clear, and other times they are not.  The goal of the PHMSA is to ensure the safe transportation of hazardous materials in commerce, it isn’t to make your like easier as a shipper.  If you must ship or transport “empty packagings” of hazardous materials, you have three options:

  1. Remove all HazMat residue and/or refill the packaging so no hazard remains.
  2. Leave residue in place and ship the packagings in compliance with the exception identified at §173.29, if applicable.
  3. Offer for shipment the empty HazMat packaging in full compliance with the HMR.

The transportation of a packaging with any hazardous material reside, even if using the Empty Packaging Exception, is subject to the HazMat Employee training requirements of 49 CFR 173, Subpart H.  Any employee involved in this activity must receive initial and triennial training.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions about the HMR.