DOT Provides Guidance on Marine Pollutants

By August 3, 2012 September 10th, 2020 Regulations, Safety, 49 CFR

Identifying environmental hazards is an important part of the current transportation of hazardous materials system. However, changes that have originated in the UN Recommendations for the Transport of Dangerous Goods (the so-called “Orange Book”) are making classification of such hazards more complex than it used to be. Fortunately, the US Department of Transport (DOT) has issued a short guide that will help those who deal with such chemicals, called Marine Pollutants, in the United States work their way through the system a little easier.

Originally, the concept of Marine Pollutants was developed to deal with chemicals that could cause significant damage if released into the ocean. A list of such chemicals was developed, based on Annex III of the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships, 1973, as modified by the Protocol of 1978 (MARPOL 73/78). Classification depended on whether or not the chemical was identified on this list, or if a substance contained ingredients on the list, above a certain concentration cut-off. While this was a relatively straightforward way of classifying well-known chemicals, it did not fully address how chemicals should be classified if information was discovered about hazards after the list had been established – added or deleting chemicals from the list required extensive work at the international level. With more environmental data being developed all the time, a new method was called for.

This new method, developed in the International Maritime Dangerous Goods (IMDG) Code, and adopted in the Globally Harmonized System (GHS) for Classification and Labelling of Chemicals, abandoned the list-based system in favour of a more dynamic one, based on evaluation of specific data regarding each chemical. While this made the system much more flexible, it introduced additional complications. First, not all chemicals have been fully tested for their environmental hazards. Additionally, the evaluation of such data is much more complicated than simply checking a list, and using concentration cut-offs.

Various regulations have moved at different paces to adopt the new system. The IMDG Code now uses the testing and evaluation method as its primary method of classification (although retaining a note on chemicals that were originally on the list, since these may reasonably be expected to still meet the definition). The DOT, however, has maintained the list as a simple and effective way of classification, but allows the new system to be used as an alternative.

Since the concept of two competing methods is rather confusing, the US Coast Guard, and the Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) have issued a short guide to help shippers and carriers manoeuver the specific US requirements for Marine Pollutants. This document, Guidance on the Transportation of Marine Pollutants, can be downloaded at no charge at

The guide explains how the US Hazardous Materials Regulations permits the use of either a list (given as Appendix B to the Hazardous Materials Table, Section 172.101), or the testing and evaluation method from the IMDG Code. If you choose to use the evaluation method, the guide indicates what data you must gather, and provides the various tables to help you interpret it. The guide also covers the basic responsibilities of shippers and carriers of Marine Pollutants, such as shipping papers, marking and placarding. For example, it clarifies that the original triangular Marine Pollutant mark is no longer authorized, and has been replaced by the square-on-point mark found in the IMDG Code.

While the guide does not replace the actual regulations, it can serve as a handy reference for those involved in the transportation of Marine Pollutants. If you have questions about Marine Pollutants, or classification in general, contact us here at ICC The Compliance Center for more information, at 1-888-442-9628 (USA) or 1-888-977-44834 (Canada).

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Barbara Foster

Barbara Foster

Barbara Foster graduated from Dalhousie University with a Master’s degree in Chemistry and a Bachelor’s degree in Education. As one of ICC Compliance Center’s most senior employees, she has worked in the Toronto office for the past three decades as a Regulatory Affairs Specialist and Trainer. She is fluent in various US, Canadian, and international regulations involving transportation, including TDG, 49 CFR, ICAO, IMDG, and the ADR/RID. She also specializes in the hazard communication standards of OSHA, WHMIS, CCCR, and the Globally Harmonized System for Classification and Labelling (GHS). Barbara is the author of ICC’s TDG Clear Language Driver and Handler’s Guide. Currently, she is a participant on the Canadian General Standards Board committee where she creates training standards for transportation of dangerous goods in Canada and is a past Chair of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Council.

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