Transportation of hazardous materials


The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) and its Hazardous Materials Regulations(HMR) regulate the transportation of hazardous materials and are enforced by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT).

HMTA and its regulations stipulate that any person offering or accepting hazardous materials for transportation in commerce register with the DOT. Hazardous materials must be classed, described, packaged, marked, and labeled so as to be in proper condition for shipment.



HMTA regulates hazardous materials in the stream of commerce to ensure that they are shipped safely and to minimize hazardous material releases into the environment. The HMR apply broadly to any hazardous material shipper, hazardous material carrier and hazardous material packaging manufacturer. The HMR are not only widely applicable to hazardous material shippers, carriers, and packagers, but they also impose large fines for violations.Penalties for violating the hazardous materials transportation regulations can amount to as much as $75,000 in civil liability ($175,000 if the violation resulted in death or serious injury) or $500,000 in criminal fines. Compliance with HMTA promotes health and environmental safety by reducing the risk that hazardous material releases will occur during transport.



The primary provisions of HMTA include Hazardous Materials ClassificationHazardous Materials Communication RequirementsHazardous Materials Training RequirementsEmergency Response Requirements; and Hazardous Materials Packaging.

  • Hazardous Materials ClassificationShippers are required to determine whether the materials they are offering for transportation are “hazardous materials”.Under HMTA, a “hazardous material” includes: (1) hazardous substances (2) hazardous wastes(3) marine pollutants (4) elevated temperature materials (5) materials identified in 49 CFR § 172.101 and (6) materials meeting the definitions in contained in Part 173.These provisions stipulate that hazardous materials must be shipped with their proper shipping namesclasses/divisionsidentification numbers, and warning labels. The HMR contain a limited quantity exception from the packaging and hazardous communication requirements for hazardous materials that are shipped in small amounts. If the quantity of material in the inner and outer packaging is below the limitations specified for each hazard class and packing group, and the gross weight of the outer package is under the specified amount, the shipment may qualify for small quantity exemption.
  • Hazardous Materials Communications Requirements:The HMR require hazardous materials to be properly marked, labeled, and placarded. Shippers, or “offerors”, are required to provide shipping papers that describe the hazardous materials to be transported. Carriers, or hazardous material transporters, must ensure that the hazardous materials are accompanied by the papers at all times. Carriers are also responsible for placarding and marking their vehicles.The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) requires hazardous waste generators to comply with the HMR’s hazardous material communication requirements prior to shipping waste offsite for treatment or disposal.
  • Hazardous Materials Training RequirementsHazardous material employers are responsible for ensuring that their workers are trained to have general awareness and familiarization with hazardous material transportation. Each employee must also receive safety training that includes emergency response procedures and security training concerning the risks of transporting hazardous materials.Employers must also have and familiarize workers with a security plan. Training must occur at least every three years and employers are responsible for maintaining training records.
  • Emergency Response RequirementsIf a hazardous material release occurs during the course of transportation, hazardous material carriers are required to immediately notify DOT by telephone and submit an incident response report. Shippers and carriers must ensure that emergency response information is provided on the shipping papers as well as on packaged material while in transit.
  • Hazardous Materials PackagingThe HMTA regulations contain packaging requirements for shippers, carriers, and manufacturers of hazardous materials packaging. Packaging must be capable of passing certain performance tests and be compatible with the hazardous material being transported. The regulations also provide for how the hazardous materials must be identified on the packaging.


Shippers, carriers, and hazardous material packaging manufacturers should be aware of regulatory changes that affect hazardous material transportation requirements. Due to the inherent health & safety and environmental risks involved with hazardous material transportation, HMTA broadly encompasses shipments by ground, air, sea, rail, and pipeline.Therefore, facilities whose activities include hazardous material transport of any kind will need to be aware of HMTA requirements and any regulatory changes. 



Though not specifically defined under the HMTA, the word “shipper” is considered to fall under the definition of “offeror”. An “offeror” is any person who is responsible for performing pre-transportation functions and/or makes a hazardous material available to a carrier for transportation.


A carrier is someone who is responsible for moving hazardous material in the stream of commerce via rail, aircraft, motor vehicle, pipe, or vessel.


Hazardous materials as defined in the HMTA are (1) Materials identified in 49 CFR 172.101; (2) Materials meeting the definitions contained in 49 CFR Part 173; (3) Hazardous Wastes; (4) Marine Pollutants; (5) Elevated Temperature Material; (6) Hazardous Substances.


A hazardous material employee is a person who uses one or more of its employees in connection with transporting or packaging hazardous materials.

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