Chemical Shipping and Storage: What You Need to Know

06/18/2020 by Krista Lee

Chemical Shipping and Storage: What You Need to Know

The word “chemical” may sound a little scary. But it covers many different items, including some items in your kitchen or bathroom cabinets. When people talk about the challenges of chemical shipping, they’re often talking about materials that need special care. These might include materials that could explode, ignite, emit toxic gases, or cause serious harm if not handled in a safe manner.

There are many safety rules to keep hazardous chemicals from spilling or leaking. Anyone who transports or stores hazardous chemicals must understand how to handle those types of products. If a company or person violates certain rules, they may come face to face with civil and criminal penalties and thousands of dollars’ worth of fines. This chemical safety stuff is no joke! So, what could happen if chemicals aren’t stored and shipped properly?

What Could Happen

If rules and regulations for chemical storage and shipment aren’t upheld, a dangerous situation could occur. In February 2014, a facility near Carlsbad, New Mexico experienced an impactful issue.

An issue occurred at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant facility that was responsible for storing waste from the making of plutonium bombs. This operation was a result of a clean-up effort of old nuclear weapon manufacturing sites. A storage drum containing plutonium waste broke open because of improper packaging. This resulted in waste being sprayed into the air and 22 employees were exposed to small amounts of radiation.

The incident ended with the closure of the New Mexico repository. Investigation of the Los Alamos National Laboratory also occurred. This was where the plutonium waste was being packaged in a way that led to the occurrence.

Storing Chemicals

There are a lot of rules and regulations when it comes to storing chemical materials. One wrong thing and you could literally have an explosion on your hands. To protect the environment and people that work where hazardous materials are being stored and used, containment is important. This is to prevent contamination.

Regulations are created at the state and federal levels to help prevent incidents from happening while chemicals are being stored and moved across the country. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Department of Transportation (DOT), and other agencies all have specific requirements for handling chemicals.

Douglas Brown, of Brown Chemical Company in Oakland, NJ states that his company must interface with nine different agencies just to open the doors every day. Along with OSHA, DOT, and EPA, those agencies include the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA), and the FBI.

There are also safety steps companies enforce to prevent spills, leaks, and injuries. Some safety rules include forklift speed limits, passageway traffic rules, and safety training. Other safety measures could be:

  • Implementing storage rules – Larger volumes of chemicals tend to be stored in drums, barrels or Intermediate Bulk Containers (IBC), on racks or in large chemical storage units. Using signage to show the maximum volume a pallet or rack can hold will prevent collapsed areas and spills.
  • A specialized storage system – It’s common for large warehouses to store products by alphabetizing, order of most used, or reference numbers. But these methods don’t work well when it comes to chemicals. That’s because there are several sets of chemicals that should never be near each other and could cause explosive reactions. If conflicting materials were to come into contact, fire, explosion, violent reactions or toxic gases could result.
  • Inspections and emergency response plans – Companies should schedule regular, thorough visual inspections of storage areas to make sure no spills or leaks go unnoticed. This can lessen the possibility of employee health issues, damage to the building and other products, or worse. An emergency response plan should be in place in case a leak or spill happens.

Other typical storage considerations may include temperature, ignition control, ventilation, segregation, and identification. There are even special types of equipment that should be used in these environments. For example, EE-rated non-spark equipment prevent any spark from igniting a vapor or gas. In addition, special padding and static guard helps to ensure electrical equipment doesn’t set off accidents. All proper storage information is on Safety Data Sheets (SDS). An SDS must be on hand for every hazardous chemical in your workplace.

Shipping Chemicals

There are extra requirements that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and DOT track to make sure shippers are compliant when transporting chemical materials. In order for a carrier to haul a chemical load that contains hazardous materials, both the driver assigned to the truck must have a hazmat certificate on their CDL and the carrier must have a hazmat certificate registered with DOT. Before shipping chemicals, a best practice would be to vet common carriers to be sure they have the above requirements. Using a third-party logistics company like Trinity will give you peace of mind when trying to get this information.

Our Carrier Compliance Team monitors carrier certificates and ensures trucking companies and drivers adhere to these requirements before arranging a chemical load. This provides the best possible safety and lessens the risk for shippers.

Responsible Care® partnership is also something to consider when shipping chemical products. This is the chemical manufacturing industry’s environmental, health, safety, and security performance initiatives. Trinity is a proud Responsible Care® partner and is committed to following the program through endorsing their guiding principles; measuring and publicly reporting our performance on an annual basis; implementing the Responsible Care Product Safety Code, Process Safety Code and Security Code; implementing the Responsible Care Management System ® to achieve and verify results; and obtaining independent certification that a management system is in place and functions according to professional specifications.

Another thing to consider with chemical shipping is capacity. Capacity is already an issue because of the driver shortage. But in the chemical industry, shipments often involve regional trips. These long-distance hauls can be unattractive to drivers. Finding tanker trucks for bulk chemical shipments proves especially tough.

Using a third-party broker like Trinity Logistics, will help take the guess work out of shipping your chemical materials. 

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Originally published August 16, 2018. Updated by Christine Griffith.