Hazardous materials are chemical substances that while useful when handled properly, if released or misused can pose a threat to the environment or health. These chemicals are used in industry, agriculture, medicine, research, and consumer goods.
Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.
Hazardous materials in their various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings, homes, and other property. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely. These products are also shipped daily on the nation’s highways, railroads, waterways, and pipelines.
Varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States--from major industrial plants to local dry cleaning establishments or gardening supply stores.
There are many types of hazardous materials. Chemicals are often reportable, potentially reportable or noticeable as inventory under the reporting requirements of the Hazardous Chemical Reporting (40 CFR Part 302), or as an environmental release under the reporting requirements of the Toxic Chemical Release Reporting: Community Right To Know (40 CFR Part 372).
These include chemicals with special characteristics which, in the opinion of the manufacturer, can cause harm to people, plants, or animals when released by spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping, or disposing of in the environment (including the abandonment or discarding of barrels, containers, and other receptacles).
The Federal Motor Carrier Administration defines nine classes of hazardous materials, all of which must be labeled on transports carrying them. All DOT hazardous materials are listed in the DOT Hazardous Materials Guide.