Since the mid-1800s, our country has been grappling with the dangers and difficulties of transporting hazardous materials. The regulation of the transportation of hazardous materials in this country began in a piecemeal fashion, largely unsupervised and with large inconsistencies across regions, which led to devastating disasters. Since then, unified regulations have been put in place which have significantly reduced the impact on people and the environment from catastrophic spills.

The Early Days of Hazmat Transportation Regulations

Because the primary method of dangerous goods transportation in the mid-1800s was via navigable waters, our first regulations concerning hazmat transportation focused on maintaining the safety of the ships that carried the hazardous materials. It was fitting then that the first governmental entity to oversee the regulation of hazmat transportation was the U.S. Coast Guard. The earliest hazmat transportation regulations were based on English common-law principles, which stated that “a shipper must not load dangerous cargo that may damage the ship, without the carrier’s knowledge or consent.” In 1871, a Federal law was passed that prohibited transporting combustible and flammable materials on passenger ships. In 1887 the Interstate Commerce Commission was established to create a unified regulatory agency that would oversee the transport of hazardous materials on the railroads, but over the next 40 years would grow to include all methods of transport including rail, water, road, and air. The ICC would continue to be the agency overseeing hazmat transportation for more than a hundred years, establishing nationwide standards for the packaging, marking, loading, and handling of explosives and other dangerous materials in transi

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1975 (HMTA)

In the 1970s, landfills began refusing hazardous waste in response to growing widespread concern regarding the dangers of hazardous dump sites. Many of the containers transporting hazardous waste were not designed to stand the test of time and would quickly deteriorate, leading to catastrophic environmental impact. Due to the high cost of properly disposing of hazardous materials, illegal dumping became very common, taking place on vacant lots, in rivers, along highways, and even on the actual highways themselves. During the same time, an increase in interstate commerce led to an increase in highway accidents involving hazardous materials. Though the ICC had established regulations for the transportation of hazardous materials, the enforcement of these standards was inconsistent. To correct these issues, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act was signed into law in 1975, establishing the Department of Transportation and granting it the authority to regulate and provide for the enforcement of these standards. When it was established, the DOT estimated that 75% of hazmat transportations violated existing regulations due to a lack of inspection and poor coordination among the various entities overseeing hazmat transportation. Within the authority granted in the HMTA, the DOT unified regulations across the country, established 9 classes of hazardous materials, and implemented inspection methods for each

Today’s Hazmat Transportation Regulations

More than two billion tons of hazardous materials are transported within our country each year, with roughly one million hazmat shipments occurring each day. Since the passage of the HMTA, two significant amendments have been made to clarify and expand hazmat transportation regulations. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act of 1990 set out to standardize international safety requirements as recommended by the United Nations and to develop standards for information required for all shipments of hazardous materials. This information would prove invaluable in properly responding to accidents involving hazardous materials. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Authorization Act of 1994 gave the DOT the authority to more broadly require people transporting hazardous materials to register with the DOT, and it also allocated broader funding to safety initiatives put in place by the DOT. Over the past 150 years, our country’s focus has moved from protecting the vessel carrying the hazardous material to protecting the people and environment that may be affected in the event of an accident involving dangerous goods. We have moved from fragmented, localized regulations to national, and now even international, standards of regulation.

Here at Packaging Specialties, we pay particular attention to the packaging needs of our customers, developing and manufacturing metal drums of all shapes and sizes to meet their needs for packaging various materials, including hazardous materials. Contact us today to see how we can meet your packaging needs.