We buy United Nations-marked packaging. What does the U.S. Department of Transportation mean when it says the UN performance tests are only “minimum” requirements?
If you ship DOT-regulated hazardous materials in non-bulk packages exceeding limited quantity levels, you must use UN-marked and tested packaging.
The basic UN performance standard includes drop, hydrostatic pressure, leak-proofness and stacking tests. The DOT’s Office of Hazardous Materials Safety (hazmat.dot.gov) also requires the “capability” to pass a specific vibration test.
The answer to your question lies in the general provisions of the DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (Title 49 CFR Sections 173.24, 173.24a, 173.27 and 173.28). The core of Sec. 173.24 is that the packaging selected by the hazmat shipper must “be designed, constructed, maintained, filled, its contents so limited, and closed, so that under conditions normally incident to transportation... there will be no identifiable (without use of instruments) release of hazardous materials to the environment.” Passing the UN tests is only the starting point; the packaging actually has to work in the real world under the conditions involved in the distribution of this product by the modes of transportation that will be utilized.
The DOT also says that, under conditions normally incident to transportation, the shipper is responsible to assure that “the effectiveness of the packaging will not be substantially reduced; for example, impact resistance, strength, packaging compatibility, etc., must be maintained for the minimum and maximum temperatures, changes in humidity and pressure, and shocks, loadings and vibrations normally encountered during transportation.”
These requirements are imposed upon the filler of the packaging, not the maker of it, because only the filler can foresee the normal transportation fate of the product. As such, inadequacies in packaging design, filling and closure are shipper violations. The penalties are meant to provide a compliance incentive.
Note also that the DOT’s Research & Special Programs Administration has just raised the ceiling on civil penalties to $32,500 per violation. A DOT-drafted bill soon to be introduced in the U.S. Congress will raise this penalty even further, to $100,000 per violation.
Section 173.24 also addresses compatibility of the packaging with its contents and many facets of closures. Sec. 173.24a adds more detail on closures, as well as securing inner receptacles, calculation of minimum hydrostatic test pressures based on the vapor pressure of the product, and required outage to accommodate expansion.
Section 173.27 — too often overlooked — piles more requirements on the shipper of hazmat by air. These additional requirements not only have to be met, but an air shipper’s function-specific hazmat employee training had better include details on how to meet them. Pressure-differential resistance, and use of absorbent materials, liners and sealing of closures are addressed in these sections, not only for UN-marked but for all hazmat packages offered for air shipment.
The new “air eligibility mark” comes into force in air transportation on January 1, 2004, and shippers must realize that this mark is a certification of compliance with these packaging rules. If you need more information on this mark, see the DOT’s HM-215E final rule (68 Fed. Reg. 44992; July 31, 2003), and the International Air Transport Association’s Dangerous Goods Regulations (www.iata.org).
Section 173.28 limits the reuse of packaging for hazmat shipments, including marked minimum thickness for plastic and steel drums, and other aspects of reuse.
The UN testing is the easy part of packaging development. The much more difficult tasks go beyond these tests, to assure sufficient quality in the packaging, and the preparation and handling of the filled package at all stages of distribution, to support the highest level of confidence on the part of the shipper that the packaging as offered will get the product safely to the point of consumption. LT
Lawrence Bierlein is a partner with McCarthy, Sweeney & Harkaway, P.C. in Washington, D.C. His practice is devoted to issues involving transportation of hazardous materials. He can be reached at 202.393.5710.