Am I a DOT Hazmat Transporter?



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Q. I have heard through the grapevine that the U.S. Department of Transportation has inspected one of our competitors regarding hazardous materials registration requirements. Can you give this small metal finishing shop owner an overview on how this would apply to us, since we do not transport hazardous materials? Also, do you have any insight into what may trigger a DOT inspection? J.G.

A. The DOT’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) made significant changes to its registration requirements (49 CFR Part 172) back in 2000. Those changes revised the registration applicability threshold for those that not only “transport” hazardous materials (which includes hazardous waste), but also “offer” hazardous materials for transport. We have found that most industrial facilities do not think they need to register with the DOT because they are not actively transporting a hazardous material in commerce but are contracting this service to an external transporter. As stated above, DOT registrations can apply simply by offering a material for transport.

Like you, electroplating and small finishing facilities generate waste materials that have to be characterized and disposed of properly in accordance with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency hazardous waste regulations, commonly referred to as the Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA). Some common RCRA hazardous waste steams for our industry, as described in EPA regulation 40CFR261, and their likely DOT Shipping Descriptions & EPA Waste Codes (e.g., D002) are as follows:

  • Spent Alkaline Cleaners [Corrosive liquid, inorganic, n.o.s.; 8; UN3266; PG II (D002)]

  • Spent Acid Pickle Baths [Corrosive liquid, acidic, inorganic, n.o.s.; 8; UN3264; PG II (D002)]

  • Spent Chromic or Chrome Baths [Waste Chromic Acid Solution; 8; UN1755; PG II (D002)]

  • Wastewater Treatment Filter Press Cake [Hazardous Waste Solid, n.o.s.; 9; NA3077; PG III (F006)]

  • Waste Solvents [Waste Flammable Liquids, n.o.s.; 3; UN1993, PG III (D001)]

Once you have established that you need to offer hazardous waste for transport in commerce, you must determine if DOT registration is applicable. For most electroplating and metal finishing facilities, DOT registration applicability is determined based upon shipping hazardous waste in bulk containers (e.g., roll-off box) or quantities requiring the transport vehicle to be placarded. We recommend you follow these steps in determining if you must register:

  • Develop an inventory of your waste streams.

  • Review EPA’s RCRA hazardous waste regulations (40CFR261) and determine which of your waste streams are classified as hazardous waste.

  • Review previous hazardous waste manifests and shipping papers for data regarding types of packaging and quantities shipped.

  • Verify that DOT shipping descriptions listed on shipping documents are correct. A proper shipping description, as shown above, will consist of a proper shipping name, hazard class, UN/NA number and packing group (PG) number (e.g., I, II or III). You can refer to DOT’s regulations under 49 CFR Part 172 (Hazardous Materials Table) for a listing of DOT shipping descriptions. The Hazard Class and Packing Group (PG) number may be of particular importance when determining registration applicability.

Once you have collected the above information, you can now determine if DOT registration is required for your facility. If any of the following are met, then you must register:

  • Shipment of Hazardous Materials in “bulk” packaging (49 CFR 171.8) having a capacity equal to or greater than 3,500 gal for liquids or gases, or more than 468 cu feet (17.33 cu yards) for solids. For example, a facility that offers a 20-cu-yard roll-off box of F006 filter press cake would be required to register.

  • Shipment of Hazardous Materials in other than bulk packaging of 5,000 lbs gross weight or more of one class of hazardous materials for which placarding of a vehicle, rail car or freight container is required.
  • A quantity of hazardous material that requires placarding (49 CFR Part 172.504 – General Placarding Requirements). For the typical waste materials listed above, placarding is required on any bulk container (e.g., totes) or non-bulk containers (e.g., 55-gal drums) exceeding 1,001 lbs. For example, a tote (bulk) or two 55-gal drums (non-bulk) of waste hydrochloric pickle acid require placarding.

Note: bulk packaging is defined in DOT regulations 49 CFR 171.8 as liquid containers with capacities greater than 119 gal, solids containers with a net mass greater than 882 lbs and 119 gal volume, and gases with a water capacity greater than 1,000 lbs.

As you can see, it is very easy for even a small-quantity generator of hazardous waste to exceed the shipping threshold requiring registration. Small facilities may go a few years not requiring registration, and then, due to plant clean-up activities, registration is required for that year. The annual registration and payment is required by July 1 each year.

Unannounced inspections are periodically conducted by DOT. Criteria utilized in determining whom to inspect include:

  • Investigation of known shipper violations discovered during carrier audits

  • Non-frivolous written complaints alleging violations of the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations

  • Spill and hazmat incident reports

  • Referrals from other governmental agencies and special investigations targeting high-risk hazardous materials such as explosives and certain radioactive materials and

  • The facility had registered with DOT in the past and no longer does so.

There appears to be an increase in inspections related to facilities that have not registered or forgot to keep their registrations current.

We recommend that electroplating and metal finishing facilities review their shipping practices annually to verify whether registration is required.

For assistance in your research, go to the DOT registration website, phmsa.dot.gov/hazamt/registration. There you will find a registration instruction booklet and registration forms, and information related to annual fees and how to register if necessary. 

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