Relaxed Shipping Regulations for Fireworks, Tracer Ammunition Proposed

Posted on 11/30/2023 by Roger Marks

For businesses that ship fireworks or small arms tracer ammunition, a rule recently proposed by US DOT aims to make compliance with the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) a little easier.   

The proposed rule, published November 30, 2023, would revise the HMR to:  

  • Allow for self-certification of certain low-hazard fireworks via the online PHMSA portal.
  • Add “tracer ammunition” to the classification criteria for small arms cartridges. 
  • Allow voluntary termination of an explosive approval by the approval holder. 
PHMSA also proposes to require electronic submission of all explosives approval applications via the online PHMSA portal. Mail, e-mail, or fax submissions would no longer be accepted. 

Self Service Approvals for Low Hazard Fireworks

In general, the HMR prohibits anyone to ship or transport any explosive unless it has been tested, classed, and approved by US DOT’s Associate Administration. 

The rule proposed on November 30 would allow for self-certification of certain low-hazard fireworks using an automated online system that reviews applications and issues certifications. 

Self-certification would be an alternative to the current approval process for “ground devices,” which are fireworks designed to produce their effects at or near ground level. The category includes firecrackers, crackling balls and strips, certain sparklers, and more (17 devices in all). 

Relaxed Shipping Regulations for Fireworks, Tracer Ammunition Proposed

From the proposed rule: 

“Manufacturers of fireworks that meet the required criteria for the construction, formulation, and packaging of these ground devices… would certify compliance with specified conditions and limitations online and receive a certificate with a unique identifier number (i.e., FW number) for each firework type.”

[88 FR 229, p. 83514—30, 11/30/2023]

Novelty Devices: International Shipments 

The proposed rule would also allow for shippers of certain “novelty devices” to use the PHMSA online portal to obtain a certification needed to ship devices internationally

When shipped by ground, rail, or vessel within the United States, fireworks “novelty devices” like the so-called snappers pictured below are not regulated as explosives when they meet certain conditions for construction, formulation, packaging, etc.

That exception applies only within the US, however. 

fireworks novelty items eligible for hazmat rule exceptions

PHMSA is proposing allow novelty device shippers to use the automated online PHMSA portal to obtain an approval number to use for international transportation. The rule text includes a list of seven eligible novelty devices, along with a detailed description of each one. 

Tracer Ammunition 

“Tracer ammunition” refers to bullets (or other projectiles) that are coated or painted with a small amount of pyrotechnic flare material that will burn brightly after the projectile is fired, illuminating the trajectory so it is visible to the naked eye. 

Currently, the HMR includes an exception from regulation for small arms cartridges [49 CFR 173.56(h)]. The exception allows manufacturers to self-classify certain types of ammunition into Division 1.4S for transportation, including most rifle, pistol, and shotgun ammunition and “ammunition with inert projectile or blank ammunition.” 

Because tracer ammunition is treated with additional pyrotechnic material, manufacturers expressed uncertainty about whether the exception in 173.56(h) applies to "tracers." 

PHMSA gives a clear answer in the proposed rule: The small amount of pyrotechnic substance added to a tracer round is not enough to increase the danger posed by the projectile. So, PHMSA is proposing to amend the exception in 173.56(h) to also authorize self-classification for tracer ammunition. 

In their words: 

PHMSA considers the small amount of pyrotechnic charge as a negligible quantity of explosive material compared to the quantity of propelling charge contained within the cartridge itself, and this small amount of pyrotechnic charge at the base of or coated on the projectile does not increase the hazards in a bonfire test nor make unintentional initiation any more likely. 

PHMSA is considering allowing tracer ammunition to be eligible for self-classification as Division 1.4S material provided all criteria outlined in 173.56(h) are met.” 


To see all regulatory revisions in the proposed rule, view the rule text in the November 30 Federal Register.

Tags: ammunition, fireworks, hazmat shipping, proposed rules

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