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How to Ship Wastes in Lab Packs

Posted on 1/25/2021 by Flip De Rea

As part of a rulemaking to reduce regulatory burdens for hazardous materials shippers, DOT PHMSA started allowing for the transportation of non-RCRA wastes in lab packs in late 2020 (Read more).

In the past, only RCRA-defined hazardous wastes (those warranting a D, F, K, P or U code) could be shipped in a lab pack. Now, wastes that do not meet EPA’s hazardous waste criteria but do meet the definition of a DOT hazardous material can be shipped under the lab pack exception.

What is a Lab Pack?

“Lab pack” generally refers to a single larger container, usually a pail or drum, filled with smaller containers of expired or unneeded chemicals being sent for disposal. It is a handy way for chemical manufacturing and research labs to “clean house”.

When we talk about the “lab pack exception,” we refer to a suite of reliefs provided by both US EPA and US DOT which allow distinct-but-similar “waste materials” to be easily combined when they are shipped for disposal.

What Reliefs Do Lab Packs Get?

The reliefs for lab packs are enumerated in two places.
  • Transportation reliefs are found in 49 CFR 173.12 Exceptions for shipment of waste materials, Lab Packs, in paragraphs (b), (d), and (f). 
  • Reliefs for disposal are found in 40 CFR 264.316, Disposal of small containers of hazardous waste in overpacked drums (lab packs).

Reliefs include broader and less expensive packaging options, fewer marking and labeling requirements, ease of transportation, and simplified disposal choices.

Specifics on Lab Pack Reliefs

As we stated above, lab packs are afforded reliefs in transportation and disposal.

Packaging Requirements. Materials in Lab packs are excepted from their normal specification packaging requirements. Instead, outer packagings need only be rated for Packing Group III (Drums) or PG II (Boxes and IBC’s).

Proper Shipping Name. When two or more waste materials are packaged in the same outer packaging, a single, generic PSN may be used in place of multiple specific chemical names.

Marking & Labeling. Overpacks of lab packs are not subject to the overpack marking requirements.

Segregation on Motor Vehicles. Lab packs are not subject to the vehicle and container segregation requirements of fully regulated hazardous materials packages. This is true even for lab packs containing Class 8, PG I and Division 5.1, PG I waste materials, which may be overpacked with other hazardous materials.

Disposal. Lab packs are excepted from land disposal treatment standards (LDRs); except for incinerator residues from lab packs containing D004 - D008, D010, and D011 wastes.

Which Materials Are Eligible?

In addition to RCRA-regulated hazardous wastes, hazardous materials may now be transported using the lab pack exception if they:
  • Are destined for disposal or recovery
  • Meet the definition of a Class 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, or Division 6.1 (PG II or III) hazmat. 
  • Will be transported by highway, rail, or cargo vessel
The following materials  may not be placed in a Lab Pack: EPA Hazardous Waste Codes: D009, F019, K003 - K006, K062, K071, K100, K106, P010 - P012, P076, P078, U134, U151; a material poisonous-by-inhalation; most temperature-controlled materials; chloric acid; and oleum (fuming sulfuric acid).

Lab Pack Shipping Requirements

While lab packs qualify for relief from many of the more burdensome 49 CFR hazmat shipping regulations, you must follow some requirements to stay in compliance.  

The lab packed materials must be transported in a combination package with inner packagings that are either metal or plastic (
The outer packaging must be an open head metal drum of no more than 416-liter (110 gallon) capacity and the completed gross weight may not exceed 205 kg (452 lbs). Persons who incinerate lab packs may use fiberboard outer packagings instead of metal.

Each outer packaging may contain only one hazard class of compatible waste materials and must be “full” (packed with inner packaging and sorbent material) before it is closed.

Liquid waste materials must be packaged in non-leaking inner packagings that are tightly and securely sealed. Those inner packagings must be surrounded by a compatible nonbiodegradable sorbent material in sufficient quantity to sorb the total liquid contents of the outer packaging.

Most reactive hazardous wastes must be treated or rendered non-reactive prior to packaging.

Also, while the completed package will still be marked and labeled as appropriate, lab packs are exempt from requirements for adding technical names.

When lab packs are placed in an overpack, labels representative of each Hazard Class or Division in the overpack must be visibly displayed on two opposing sides of the overpack.

Lab packs are not subject to the usual vehicle and container segregation requirements when the shipment is blocked, braced, and prepared according to the detailed guidance at 49 CFR 173.12(e).

By allowing non-RCRA wastes to be shipped in lab packs, DOT’s November 2020 Final Rule makes it easier for labs, universities, medical facilities, warehouses, and others to unburden themselves from unused, off-spec, or unwanted chemicals. 

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Tags: chemicals, hazmat shipping, lab pack

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