Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975)

views updated Jun 08 2018

Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975)

Arthur Holst

In the 1970s many landfills throughout the United States began to refuse to accept hazardous materials, and few cheap disposal alternatives existed. As a result, illegal dumping became common. Enforcement of antidumping laws was weak. In response to the need for better regulations and enforcement, Congress passed the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA) (P.L. 93-633, 88 Stat. 2156) in 1975. Its stated purpose is "to provide adequate protection against the risks to life and property inherent in the transportation of hazardous material in commerce by improving the regulatory and enforcement authority of the Secretary of Transportation."

The HMTA sets extensive guidelines for carriers of hazardous materials. They must classify, package, and label materials appropriately, use specific hazardous material placards for shipments, and have suitable shipping papers at all times. They must follow Department of Transportation (DOT) rules, maintain rapid response plans for emergencies, undergo safety training programs, and comply with packaging standards.

The HMTA gives enforcement authority to the DOT. Under delegated authority from the secretary of the DOT, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) enforces motor carrier regulations, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) enforces rail carrier regulations, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) enforces air carrier regulations, and the U.S. Coast Guard enforces maritime shipping regulations. Considerable hazardous waste regulation authority is given to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well, under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) of 1976, which requires the EPA to set guidelines for the management of hazardous and nonhazardous waste in an environmentally friendly manner.

Even with these guidelines addressing hazardous material transportation, confusion about federal, state, and local hazardous material regulations arose. In 1990 Congress passed the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act (HMTUSA). This act addressed the confusion by encouraging uniformity throughout the levels of government concerning guidelines for hazardous material transportation. Also, states are advised to designate certain highways and roads that are acceptable for hazardous material transportation.

The DOT's Office of Hazardous Materials Safety has published the Federal Hazardous Materials Regulations, which is a complete guide to hazardous material guidelines and interpretations. Knowingly violating these guidelines subjects carriers to a range of penalties. Violations result in fines in amounts from $250 to $25,000. If violations occur over numerous days, each day is subject to a separate fine. Also, one who tampers with or defaces a hazardous material label, container, truck, placard, or other object is guilty of a criminal offense, punishable by up to five years in prison.

Many fines and prison sentences have been assessed for violations of the HMTA. In one particular case, a man had packed fireworks in his luggage for a flight to San Francisco on the weekend of July 4, 1994. Airline employees came upon the items in the bag and alerted FAA officials, who levied a $1,250 fine on the individual. The man appealed the fine, but it was affirmed since the man knowingly acted in violation of the HMTA. Prosecutions of violations are of heightened concern following the rise of terrorist threats to the United States, emphasizing the importance of strict enforcement of the HMTA.

See also: Hazardous and Solid Waste Amendments of 1984; Nuclear Waste Policy Act; Solid Waste Disposal Act.


"Hazardous Materials Transportation Act." Department of Energy: Office of Environment, Safety and Health. <http://tis.eh.doe.gov/oepa/law_sum/HMTA.HTM>.

"ResourceHazardous Materials Transportation Act." Department of the Interior: Bureau of Land Management. <http://www.ntc.blm.gov/learningplace/res_HMTA.html>.

Wagner, Travis P. The Hazardous Waste Q & A: An In-Depth Guide to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act. Indianapolis, IN: John Wiley and Sons, 1997.


Department of Transportation. <http://www.dot.gov>.

Environmental Protection Agency. <http://www.epa.gov>.

Federal Aviation Administration. <http://www.faa.gov>.

Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975)

views updated May 11 2018

Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (1975)

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act, enacted in 1975 as part of a law dealing with transportation safety, strengthened the 1970 Hazardous Materials Transportation Control Act. The impetus for this act was increased illegal, or midnight, dumping; increasing spills; and poor enforcement. Illegal dumping increased in the 1970s as many landfills began to refuse to take hazardous waste , thus dramatically increasing the costs of disposal. The illegal dumping took place in vacant lots, along highways, or actually on the highways. In the congressional debate on the act, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), which administers the law, estimated that 75% of all hazardous waste shipments violated the existing regulations. This poor enforcement was due to a lack of inspection personnel, fragmented jurisdiction and lack of coordination among the Coast Guard, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Highway Administration, and the Federal Railroad Administration.

The law establishes minimum standards of regulation for the transport of hazardous materials by air, ship, rail, and motor vehicle. The DOT regulates the packing, labeling, handling, vehicle routing, and manufacture of packing and transport containers for hazardous materials transportation. The hazardous materials and wastes covered by the law, based on DOT regulations, are those on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) list and certain substances designated by the Environmental Protection Agency under the authority of Superfund. All hazardous waste transporters must register as such with the proper state and federal agencies; they must use the RCRA uniform manifest system to track the pick-up and delivery of all shipments; they must only deliver to permitted hazardous waste facilities; they must notify the proper agencies of any accidents; they must clean up any discharges that occur during the transportation process. The law also provides a significant role for the states, though there are provisions in the act to prevent overly strict state and local regulations of hazardous waste transport. The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act includes numerous information requirements, also designed to increase public safety. Each vehicle carrying hazardous materials must display a sign identifying the hazard class of the cargo, and emergency response information has been required since 1990. Each shipment must also be accompanied by its RCRA hazardous waste manifest.

The manifest system is part of the RCRA "cradleto-grave" approach to regulating hazardous materials. The system is supposed to prevent illegal dumping, since hazardous waste transporters could not accept hazardous waste without a manifest, and, similarly, hazardous waste treatment and disposal facilities could not accept waste from transporters without a manifest. Since all hazardous materials could be traced and accounted for through such manifests, illegal dumping should stop. Nevertheless, it is unclear how much effect the manifest system has had on illegal dumping since such dumping is still less costly than proper disposal.

In 1990, the Hazardous Materials Transportation Uniform Safety Act was passed, the first major amendments to the 1975 Act. Poor enforcement of the existing law was the stimulus for action. The law focused on better enforcement by increasing the number of inspectors, increasing the civil and criminal penalties for violation of the regulations, and helping states better respond to accidents involving hazardous materials.

See also Chemical spills; Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERLA) (1980); Hazardous waste siting; Solidification of hazardous material; Storage and transport of hazardous materials

[Christopher McGrory Klyza ]



Dower, R. C. "Hazardous Wastes." Public Policies for Environmental Protection, edited by P. R. Portney. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future, 1990.

Mazmanian, D., and D. Morell. Beyond Superfailure: America's Toxics Policy for the 1990s. Denver: Westview Press, 1992.


"Hazardous Materials Law Strengthened." Congressional Quarterly Almanac 46 (1990): 38082.