Opening hazmat packages
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October 14, 2013
Opening hazmat packages

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has issued several amendments to hazardous materials regulations (HMRs) affecting the procedures a PHMSA inspector must follow when removing a package containing hazardous materials (hazmats) from transportation, opening and closing the package, returning the package to transportation, and notifying the responsible party of these actions. 

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The amendments are primarily concerned with the application of these procedures to packages containing perishable hazmats such as radiopharmaceuticals and other medical products that may require timely delivery due to life-threatening situations.

Directions from Congress

The amendments respond to provisions in major transportation legislation signed by the president in 2012 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, MAP-21).  In the act, Congress directed the Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop regulations to ensure the safe and expeditious resumption of transportation of perishable hazmats that require timely delivery.  Congress also directed that rulemaking address related matters such as taking noncompliant packages that present an imminent hazard out of service until the condition is corrected; moving a noncompliant package that does not present an imminent hazard to its final destination; appropriate training and equipment for inspectors; and proper closure of packaging in accordance with the HMRs.

2011 rule

The PHMSA points out that existing regulations, policies, and operating procedures “thoroughly address the hazmat transportation matters identified by Congress.”  Mainly, a March 2011 final rule spells out when and how DOT agents will open a package.  Also, if an agent opens a package, there are procedural rules included in a DOT internal manual applicable across all modes of transportation for closing the package and ensuring its safe resumption of transportation, if applicable. 

The PHMSA emphasizes that its agents will not close and bring into compliance noncompliant packages that have been opened for inspection.  However, the 2011 rule also specifies that the inspector must immediately inform the carrier of a possible delay in arrival of the package and, if the carrier is not the offeror of the package, the inspector will take “reasonable measures” to notify the offeror of the delay.

Appropriate alternatives

The current amendments, which become effective November 1, 2013, include the following:

  • A clarification that an agent will stop or open a package containing a perishable hazardous material only after the agent has utilized “appropriate alternatives.”
  • A requirement that the inspector or investigator will take immediate and reasonable action to notify the offeror and the person in possession of the package of enforcement actions, including the opening of packages; removing a package and related packages in a shipment from transportation; directing a package to be transported to a facility for examination and analysis; and authorizing properly qualified personnel to assist in these activities.  The notice will include the reason for the action being taken, the results of any preliminary investigation including apparent violations of the HMRs, and any further action that may be warranted.
  • A provision specifying that agents must use the appropriate safety, handling, and other equipment authorized by their operating administration’s equipment requirements for hazmat inspectors and investigators.

PHMSA’s final amendments concerning the opening of packages containing certain perishable hazmats were published in the October 2, 2013, FR.

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