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May 05, 2015
Hazmat transportation regulations exceptions—Will one work for you?
By Elizabeth M Dickinson, JD, Senior Legal Editor - EHS

The transportation of hazardous materials must be in accordance with the federal hazardous materials regulations (HMR) found at 49 CFR 105 to 180. The regulations are numerous and complicated. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some relief from these challenging Department of Transportation (DOT) requirements? Well, there is, depending on the hazard class and the quantity of hazardous material being transported.

Built into the HMR are exceptions for certain materials that evidence, in DOT’s estimation, minimal risks when transported. Some exceptions partially exempt, and fewer others fully exempt, compliance with the HMR concerning packaging, marking, labeling, placarding, shipping papers, training, safety and security plans, and emergency response information. Of course, there are still plenty of conditions that must be met in order to avail yourself of these exceptions.

Three exceptions worth knowing about are the:

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Materials of trade exception

Perhaps the most “popular” of the exceptions, this exception described in detail at 49 CFR 173.6 allows certain hazardous materials transported by a private motor carrier, for the purpose of direct support of its business, to be exempt from many, but not all, HMR. The exception allows the use of some containers that do not meet UN specifications, and it waives requirements for formal training, emergency response information, shipping papers, and placarding. The exception’s own requirements include strict quantity limits and hazard communication on the packaging.

A “material of trade” is a hazardous material, other than a hazardous waste, that is carried on a motor vehicle:

  • For the purpose of protecting the health and safety of the motor vehicle operator or passengers (e.g., insect repellant, fire extinguishers)
  • For the purpose of supporting the operation or maintenance of a motor vehicle (including its auxiliary equipment) (e.g., engine starting fluid, gasoline, spare battery), or
  • By a private motor carrier in direct support of a principal business that is other than transportation by motor vehicle (e.g., pest control, plumbing, painting, laboratory research)

The exception is limited to the following DOT hazard classes:

DOT Class or Division

Name of Hazard

Division 2.1

Flammable gases

Division 2.2

Nonflammable gases

Class 3

Flammable and combustible liquid

Division 4.1

Flammable solid

Division 4.3

Dangerous when wet material

Division 5.1


Division 5.2

Organic peroxide

Division 6.1

Poisonous (toxic) substance

Division 6.2
(other than a Category A infectious substance)

Infectious substance (e,g., patient specimens, biological products, regulated medical waste, infectious liquids or solid, sharps)

Class 8


Class 9

Miscellaneous hazardous material


Other regulated material (e.g., consumer commodities)


For information on quantity limitations and packaging requirements for materials transported under this exception, review the requirements of 49 CFR 173.6.

Small quantity exception

If you are shipping small quantities (typically 1 ounce or less) of certain hazardous materials domestically by highway or rail, relief is available from the marking, labeling, placarding, shipping paper, and all other requirements of the HMR if your shipment can meet the requirements of DOT’s small quantity exception. In order to use it, your materials must be covered by the exception, and you must meet the detailed packaging requirements of 49 CFR 173.4 that include:

  • Inner receptacle:
    • Contains hazardous material in quantities between 1gram (g) and 30g (or 30 milliliter (ml)) (as specified in the regulation)
    • Is constructed of at least 0.2 millimeter (mm) (0.008 inch) thick plastic (or earthenware, glass, or metal)
    • Is not liquid-full at 55°C (13°F)
    • If with a removable closure, has closure held securely in place
    • Is secured in strong outer packaging
  • Absorbent and/or cushioning meet specific requirements
  • Prototype packaging that must pass a drop test and compressive load test
  • Completed package that:
    • Does not contain materials forbidden from being transported as per 49 CFR 173.21
    • Does not exceed 29 kilogram (kg) (64 pounds)
    • Is not opened or altered until no longer in commerce
    • Is marked with the statement, “This package conforms to 49 CFR 173.4 for domestic highway or rail transport only.”

Materials covered by the exemption (which include many of those in the materials of trade exception) are:

  • Nonflammable gases (except aerosols with no subsidiary hazard)
  • Flammable and combustible liquid
  • Flammable solid
  • Spontaneously combustible material (Division 4.2, PG II and III)
  • Dangerous when wet material (PG II and III)
  • Oxidizer
  • Organic peroxide
  • Poisonous (toxic) materials
  • Radioactives (Class 7)
  • Corrosive material, and
  • Miscellaneous hazardous material

See 49 CFR 173.4 for the exception’s additional requirements. Note that lithium batteries and cells are not eligible for this exception and that radioactives must also comply with certain provisions of 49 CFR 173.421 and 49 CFR 173.424.

Combustible liquid exception

The “combustible liquid exception” is an exception that while perhaps not as well-known as some others, can be very helpful in lessening the burden of shipping certain high-flashpoint Class 3 flammable liquids (e.g., diesel fuel, gasoline, kerosene). This exception allows your hazardous material to be exempt from all other HMR provided:

  • 49 CFR 173.150 is referenced for the specific hazardous material in Column 8(A) of the Hazardous Materials Table at 49 CFR 172.101.
  • The flammable liquid has a flash point at or above 38°C (100°F) and less than or equal to 60°C (140°F).
  • The flammable liquid does not meet the definition of any other hazard class.
  • The substance is in nonbulk packaging.
  • The substance is not a hazardous waste, a hazardous substance, or a marine pollutant.
  • The substance is transported only within the United States and by rail or highway.

See 49 CFR 173.150(f)(1) to (2) to review the requirements of this exception. You may want to review the requirements of a related but less generous exception at 49 CFR 173.150(f)(3) for a combustible liquid that is in bulk packaging or, alternatively, is a hazardous substance, a hazardous waste, or a marine pollutant.

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