An Overview of the New U.S. Requirements for Shipping Limited Quantities of Dangerous Goods

On January 19, 2011, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) published final rule HM-215K, which harmonized the requirements of the U.S. Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) with international transport regulations.  Among the most significant changes in the rule involved the introduction of the internationally harmonized requirements for shipping limited quantities of dangerous goods (hazardous materials)

What Does the Rule Do?

The final rule revises the limited quantity requirements and phases out the consumer commodity and ORM-D classifications. By doing so, PHMSA hopes to alleviate some of the confusion that has surrounded the requirements for small shipments of dangerous goods by simplifying the number of options available to the shipper.

To align with international requirements, limited quantity shipments will no longer be subject to shipping papers when transported by highway or rail, and will also benefit from the packaging and transport relief in 49 CFR §173.156 for road and rail transport (e.g. under certain conditions packages can exceed 30 kg and unitized cages, carts, boxes or similar overpacks can be used).  The current requirements for limited quantity shipments have been revised to coincide with the ORM-D requirements that previously applied, with the exception of the new package markings for road, rail and sea transport in §173.315.

That said, the new limited quantity requirements for air transport are much more restrictive than in the past because the rule aligns the HMR with the International Civil Aviation Organization Technical Instructions (ICAO TI).  Prior to the publication of the final rule, hazardous materials that were authorized for transport under the limited quantity provisions were the same for all modes.  The HMR was less restrictive on hazardous materials that could be transported by air as compared to the ICAO TI.  The final rule significantly limits the materials authorized for transport by air under the limited quantity provisions, and only allows a select list of materials to be transported under the entry “Consumer Commodity, ID 8000, Class 9.”  It is highly recommended that anyone offering limited quantities or consumer commodities by air pay particular attention to the requirements of §173.27 since non-compliance with this section is sure to be a focus of DOT inspectors (particularly by FAA inspectors).

Packaging

The final rule requires all limited quantity packagings to be capable of withstanding:

  • a 1.2-meter drop test without breakage or leakage; and
  • a 3-meter stack test.

In addition, packages intended for air shipment must be capable of passing the pressure differential test specified in §173.27(c). While the regulations do not specifically mention a requirement for a test report, proof of capability or recordkeeping, some enforcement personnel may be inclined to ask for proof that the packagings are indeed capable of meeting the performance requirements.

Shipping papers

A shipping paper is no longer needed for limited quantity shipments transported by road or rail.  Shipping papers are required for air and sea shipments and the basic description must be followed by the words “Limited Quantity” or “Ltd Qty.”

MARKING FOR GROUND AND VESSEL TRANSPORT

Previously there were two options for marking limited quantity packagings.  Section 172.315, which specifies the markings required on a package containing limited quantities, was revised to reflect the new limited quantity marking requirements consistent with the UN Model Regulations, ICAO TI and IMDG Code. The new mark is required on packages of limited quantities offered for transportation by highway, rail and vessel.  A special mark (i.e. limited quantity mark with a Y in the center) is required for air transport (see below).

The new marking consists of a square on point with a black top and bottom portions and black border forming the square-on-point. While the top and bottom portions of the square-on-point and the border forming the square-on-point must be black, the center can be white or of a suitable contrasting background. In other words, the background does not have to be white and the mark can, in fact, be preprinted on fiberboard boxes as long as the black marking stands out clearly.  This was key to the discussions of the mark and was agreed on by all modal agencies as well as PHMSA.

The language in HM-215K regarding the background of the limited quantities mark states:

“The top and bottom portions of the square-on-point and the border forming the square-on-point must be black and the center white or of a suitable contrasting background [emphasis added].”

PHMSA has indicated that the background does not have to be white and the mark can in fact be preprinted on fiberboard boxes as long as the black marking stands out clearly (contrasting background).  This was also a topic of discussion at a recent United Nations meeting and was agreed to by all modal agencies as well as PHMSA.

PHMSA is requiring that all limited quantity packagings offered for transport by ground, rail, or vessel be marked with the new limited quantities marking beginning January 1, 2012.

Marking for Air Transport

For limited quantities intended for transportation by aircraft, the marking requirements are consistent with the 2011-2012 ICAO TI (i.e. a square on point with a black top and bottom portions and black border forming the square-on-point; the center must be white or of a suitable contrasting background with a black “Y” mark) in addition to any required labels.  Section 173.27, which prescribes the general requirements for packaging offered or intended for air transportation, was amended by adding a new Table 3 that outlines the requirements for limited quantities intended for air.

The question of whether the “Y” LQ mark could be applied to packages not intended for air transport is one that has frequently been raised since PHMSA’s issuance of HM-215K final rule. The ICAO Dangerous Goods Panel Working Group supported allowing packages not labeled or otherwise marked for air transport to bear the “Y” Limited Quantity mark provided the package, in all other respects, meets the air limited quantity requirements (e.g., pressure differential, closure, and ICAO packing instruction requirements). The UN TDGSC also agreed in principle with this and agreed to revise the UN Model Regulations accordingly.

PHMSA is requiring that all limited quantity packagings offered for transport by air have the “Y” mark beginning January 1, 2012.

Transition Dates

The final rule provides transition dates in several sections of the HMR. In summary:

  • January 1, 2012 – Under the 49 CFR, all transport modes must comply with the new requirements and begin using the new limited quantity marking.
  • Different transition dates are provided for concerning the use of the ORM-D marking.  These dates can be found in the 49 CFR, Sections 172.315 and 172.316.

Labelmaster Limited Quantity Labels

Labelmaster offers a variety of limited quantity markings and packagings for all transport modes. In addition, our Labelmaster Services division can assist you in navigating difficult compliance decisions, conducting safety assessments of your operations and working with your suppliers to ensure that products you receive are compliant.  For more information, visit our limited quantity labels product page or the Labelmaster Services site.

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