How Do We Define "Hazardous"? It Depends.
Call him what you will and most people will know you’re talking about the sixteenth President of the United States.
Unfortunately, the meaning of the word “hazardous” is not so universally understood in the EHS and hazmat transportation world. Across various environmental, transportation, and safety standards, agencies like US DOT, EPA, and OSHA use terms like hazardous materials, hazardous waste, hazardous chemicals, and hazardous substances to describe different sets of “stuff” that they regulate.
But despite the different terminology, these “hazardous terms” must all apply to the same stuff, right?
After all, what is hazardous in the workplace should also be considered hazardous when it goes down the road, or hazardous when it enters the environment.
The regulatory world isn’t that logical or cut and dry.
Different regulatory agencies not only use different terms for the hazardous stuff they regulate (materials, wastes, substances, chemicals, et al.), the definitions of those terms tend to vary from agency to agency, and even from regulatory program to regulatory program.
What’s more, even when agencies use the same term (e.g., EPA hazardous waste and DOT hazardous waste), they are not necessarily talking about the same stuff. It’s enough to drive a sane person crazy.
There are four core programs that have “hazardous” stuff definitions:
- DOT’s hazardous materials transportation regulations
- EPA’s hazardous waste management regulations
- EPA’s hazardous substance release reporting regulations
- OSHA’s hazard communication regulations for hazardous chemicals
DOT Hazardous MaterialsThe DOT’s Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) were created to protect the public and property from hazards that are likely to occur in transportation. Since transportation is a relatively short period of time, the criteria that the DOT uses focus on acute hazards.
The DOT uses nine numbered hazard classes to organize their definition. The first eight classes are all based on various chemical, physical, toxicological, and radiological hazards (e.g., explosives, flammables, poisons, oxidizers, and radioactives).
Some classes are divided into various divisions that further break down a regulated hazard category.
The ninth hazard class, Miscellaneous Hazards, applies to any material that does not meet any of the standard
DOT hazard criteria, but meets one of six conditions (i.e.., hazardous wastes, hazardous substances, marine pollutants, elevated temperature materials, airplane hazards, and specifically-designated).
For training to master the complex US DOT (and international) hazmat shipping regulations, find a course at Lion.com/Hazmat now.
EPA Hazardous WastesThe EPA’s hazardous waste regulations were created to protect human health and the environment from the hazards associate with the short- and long-term management of wastes. The EPA uses a combination of specifically listed wastes and characteristics to define those wastes that must be managed under the strict cradle-to-grave management standards.
There are three lists, two process waste lists and one unused discarded commercial chemical products list, of hazardous waste included in the definition. Each list describes different waste that the Agency believes meet the statutory definition of hazardous waste. Since they are descriptions, there is no testing required. A generator simply compares their waste to the various descriptions.
There are four characteristics (i.e., ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, and toxicity) included in the definition of hazardous waste. The characteristics are based on various chemical and physical hazards. Some of the characteristics have test methods. Others are descriptive, requiring the generator to have specific knowledge of the properties of their waste.
At Lion.com/RCRA, find courses to properly manage your site’s hazardous waste from cradle to grave.
EPA Hazardous SubstancesThe EPA’s hazardous substance release reporting regulations were created under the “Superfund” law (i.e., Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act). Under Superfund, a hazardous substance is any of the following:
- Clean Air Act hazardous air pollutants (HAPS)
- Clean Water Act toxic pollutants
- Clean Water Act hazardous substance
- Resource Conservation and Recovery Act hazardous waste
- Toxic Substances Control Act imminently hazardous chemical substance
Identify and understand the major EPA air, water, and chemical regulations that apply to your activities with the Complete Environmental Regulations online course.
OSHA Hazardous ChemicalsOSHA’s hazardous communication regulations were created to protect employees from physical and health hazards that they may be exposed to in their workplace. . Since an employee may be working with a chemical repeatedly over a long period of time throughout their career, the definition includes both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) criteria.
OSHA uses 10 health hazard criteria and 16 physical hazard criteria adopted from the international Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labeling of Hazardous Chemicals (GHS) as well as a few OSHA-specific criteria.
- Flammables (gases, liquids, or solids)
- Corrosive to metals
- Acute toxicity (oral, dermal, or inhalation)
- Skin corrosives
- Eye irritants
- Reproductive toxins
When One Agency Incorporates Another’s Hazard TermsSome agency’s rules incorporate other agency terms in their regulation. Here’s where it gets tricky and confusing.
The EPA simply states that any waste that either exhibits a characteristic or matches a listed description is a hazardous waste. The DOT, however, says that hazardous wastes are only those Federally-regulated hazardous wastes which are subject to the hazardous waste manifest requirements. So, that means Federal manifest-exempt waste (e.g., universal waste, very small quantity generator waste) would not be DOT hazardous waste.
Equally frustrating is how DOT defines hazardous substances. The DOT says that the materials must not only have a Superfund reportable quantity. It must be at or above its assigned reportable quantity in a single package.
The process of determining which “hazards” are subject to a specific agency’s rules is not a matter of applying common sense. Rather, one must carefully examine that agency’s specific definition and criteria to determine if their specific stuff is a regulated hazard.
If you can keep all of these hazardous terms straight all the time, we tip our top hat to you.
Subscribe to Lion News for insights and news about the latest environmental, hazardous materials, and safety regulations that impact your facility.
If It's Hazardous, We Can HelpGet training and resources to keep your regulatory expertise up to date. Whether your workplace deals with hazardous materials, hazardous wastes, hazardous substances, hazardous chemicals, or any thing else, you will find easy to use online courses to keep you ahead of the latest US DOT, EPA, and OSHA requirements.
Browse courses now at Lion.com/Catalog or contact us for help with hazardous materials shipping, hazardous waste management, or environmental projects.
The instructor was very very informative, helpful, understandable and pleasant. This course answered many questions I had, being new to this industry.
One of the best trainings I have ever received!
The course was very well structured and covered the material in a clear, concise manner.
Hazmat Shipping Professional
I like Lion's workshops the best because they really dig into the information you need to have when you leave the workshop.
Tom Bush, Jr.
This is a very informative training compared to others. It covers everything I expect to learn and even a lot of new things.
Waste Management Professional
We have a very busy work schedule and using Lion enables us to take the course at our own time. It makes it easy for me to schedule my employees' training.
Hazmat Shipping Professional
Convenient; I can train when I want, where I want.
Hazmat Shipping Professional
The instructor's energy, enthusiasm, and knowledge of the subject make the class a great learning experience!
I really enjoyed this training. Even after years on both sides of the comprehension coin, I find myself still learning! The quality of the delivery exceeded much of the training I have received in the past.
The instructor was very engaging and helped less experienced people understand the concepts.
Download Our Latest Whitepaper
Explore ten hazardous waste management errors that caused generators in California the most trouble last year.