By Ilana R. Morady and Eric E. Boyd

Earlier this month in Geneva, the U.N. Subcommittee of Experts on the Transport of Danger Goods (Subcommittee) convened to consider additions and revisions to the U.N. Model Regulations (Regulations). The Subcommittee approved two noteworthy proposals.

By way of background, the Regulations cover all aspects of the transportation of dangerous goods (known as “hazardous materials” or “hazmat” in the United States) by various modes. They include a comprehensive classification system for substances that pose a significant hazard in transportation. The hazards addressed include explosiveness, flammability, toxicity (oral, dermal and inhalation), corrosivity to human tissue and metal, reactivity, radioactivity, infectious substance hazards, and environmental hazards. The Regulations are not legally binding on individual countries, but they have gained significant international acceptance in large part because international uniformity in dangerous goods transportation eases compliance burdens and increases safety. The Subcommittee convenes twice a year to consider various proposals for updating or modifying the Regulations.

At this month’s Geneva convention, the Subcommittee approved the following two proposals:

  1. Eased requirements for the transport of small quantities of hazardous substances. The U.S. backed a proposal for exempting certain substances classified as environmentally hazardous from labeling, packaging, and documentation provisions of the Regulations when shipped in quantities of five liters or five kilograms or less. The Subcommittee approved the proposal, which was largely supported by industry groups. The eased requirements, however, only apply to substances classified as environmentally hazardous and not meeting the criteria of any other class or division of dangerous goods. Some members of the Subcommittee pushed to widen the proposal to cover small quantities of dangerous goods across the board, but that effort ultimately failed.
  2. Exemption of damaged and waste lithium batteries from regulatory requirements. In recent years, the U.S.-based Portable Rechargeable Battery Association (PRBA) and the International Association for Advanced Rechargeable Batteries (RECHARGE) have been seeking to exempt waste lithium batteries from certain regulatory requirements including U.N. testing and battery-design requirements that presented numerous compliance difficulties. The Subcommittee approved the exemption and also adopted new requirements that damaged and waste lithium batteries be shipped in accordance with specific packing instructions. Specifically, the batteries must be individually packed in inner packaging with cushioning and absorbent materials.

Both of these new provisions must now be considered by the respective modal organizations (e.g., the International Maritime Organization) to determine if and how they will be incorporated into the applicable dangerous goods regulations such as the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code.