If a package containing a hazardous material, even one subject to an exception from full regulation (e.g. limited quantity), is discovered to be broken or leaking while in transit, it is the responsibility of the driver to take action to ensure its proper disposition in compliance with the Hazardous Material Regulations (HMR) of the Department of Transportation (DOT) [49 CFR 177.854].
If a package is found to be broken or leaking after its initial loading, the driver must first contact their employer as soon as it is safely possible. Employers are actually required to instruct the driver to contact them in the event of an incident involving hazmat in transportation [49 CFR 172.606(a)]. The carrier may then contact the shipper or the intended destination to also discuss possible options.
After discussing the situation with the employer and the intended destination, the driver must do one of the following things:
- Repair the damaged package and transport to the nearest place where it may be safely disposed
- Place the damaged package into a salvage drum in compliance with the requirements of 49 CFR 173.3(c) and transport to its destination or return to the shipper
- Store the damaged package until a final disposition can be made if transport cannot be done safely
Let’s take a deeper look into each of the options for dealing with broken or leaking packages during hazmat transport:
The regulations do not identify specific repair methods nor do they provide examples. Therefore, it is up to the driver to determine what repairs, if any, can be done safely, practicably and in accordance with the best and safest work practice known and available. A repaired package may be transported to the nearest place for safe disposal if:
- Repaired package is safe for transportation
- Repair is adequate to prevent contamination of or a hazardous mixture with other lading on the vehicle — not just other hazardous materials
- The name and address of the destination (consignee) is plainly marked on the repaired package (only required if the carrier is not the shipper)
If a driver chooses to repair a hazmat package, it should be properly disposed of as soon as possible. The repaired package should not continue to the destination, nor should it be returned to the shipper, unless one of those two places meets the definition of “the nearest place at which it may be safely disposed of.” Drivers can work with the local emergency response agency in the area where the package is discovered to be damaged to determine the location of the nearest place to safely dispose of a damaged hazmat package.
2. Salvage Drum
If repairing the package is not possible, the driver may instead place the damaged package into a salvage drum and continue transportation to the destination or return the package to the shipper. The use of a salvage drum by the driver during transportation must be done according to the requirements of 49 CFR 173.3(c) with one small but significant difference: A driver placing a damaged hazmat package into a salvage drum, if in compliance with 49 CFR 173.3(c), may continue to transport the salvage drum to the destination or may return it to the shipper.
Salvage drums for damaged packages must meet the following requirements [49 CFR 173.3(c)]:
- Metal or plastic with a removable head and compatible with the hazardous material
- UN Standards for at least packing group III of the following:
- 1A2 steel drum, 1B2 aluminum drum
- 1N2 metal (other than steel or aluminum)
- 1H2 plastic drum
- Capacity of 450 L (119 gallons) or less
- Sufficient cushioning and absorbent to prevent excessive movement of the damaged package and to eliminate any free liquid
- The following in letters at least 12 mm (0.5 inches) high:
- Applicable UN Standard
- Proper shipping name of hazmat in damaged package
- Name and address of the destination (consignee)
- Required hazmat labels for damaged package displayed on salvage drum
It’s important to note that a completed salvage drum cannot be part of an overpack as described at 49 CFR 173.25. For a complete description of a salvage drum and an overpack, refer to this article: Salvage Packaging vs. Overpacks: What’s the Difference?
A driver placing a damaged hazmat package into a salvage drum, if in compliance with 49 CFR 173.3(c), may continue to transport the salvage drum to the destination or may return it to the shipper.
Under either of the above options, “Repair” or “Salvage Drum,” the responsibility of the driver is to deliver the hazmat to its final disposition if it can be done safely, whether that is its original destination or a new one selected in consultation with the carrier, the shipper and other interested parties. Actions taken by the driver must be thorough since the destination (consignee) may refuse to accept a shipment of hazmat that shows evidence of leakage during transportation (04-0217).
If a leaking or damaged package cannot be safely and adequately repaired for transportation (it’s not clear from the regulatory language, but I assume this to include a damaged or leaking package that can’t be placed in a salvage drum either), it must be stored pending final disposition in the safest and most efficient manner possible.
Incidents involving hazardous materials in transportation may be subject to the following notification requirements:
Certain hazardous materials have specific transportation requirements that drivers need to be aware of before the load is transported. Shippers and dispatchers should work together to ensure that the driver is aware of specific hazards and any special rules that apply to the shipment.
Shippers are responsible for making sure that their packages are properly closed, labeled and marked for shipment. Using UN-rated containers with the proper ratings and following hazmat shipping rules helps to minimize the chance of leaks and spills while containers are being shipped. But drivers still need to be prepared for releases that may occur due to improper handling and loading, rough roads and a number of other conditions. That’s one of the reasons why carriers receive hazmat employee training. It provides them with the information that they need to safely handle releases and know the actions that may need to be taken to handle damaged packages.