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Hazardous Materials and Hazmat Regulations: The Basics

Learn the basics about importing hazardous materials into the United States.


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If you are moving goods that might fall under the Department of Transportation’s oversight for hazardous materials (hazmat), you must ensure that your shipment is compliant with all hazmat regulations. Hazardous materials are materials, mixtures, or substances that are required to be packaged in such a way that they can be transported safely.  

These include, but are not limited to:

  • Batteries
  • Magnets
  • Chemicals (e.g. lighter fluid, hand sanitizers, etc.)
  • Fertilizer
  • Gases
  • Poisonous substances
  • Explosives and flammable substances

To determine whether or not your goods fall under hazmat regulations, consider:

  1. Commodity
  2. Quantity
  3. Packaging

For example, if you are shipping lithium-ion batteries with a level of wattage, they need to be packaged to protect against short circuiting and with an inner packaging that completely encloses each battery.  In addition, there are labeling requirements dependent on the batteries’ specifics and the mode of transportation, but generally will necessitate noting contact information for info and also that:

  • the package contains batteries
  • the package must be handled with care
  • there exists a flammability hazard if the package is damaged
  • special procedures should be followed in the event of damage, including inspection and repacking

Whether or not your goods qualify as hazardous materials can be determined by the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) provided by your manufacturer or supplier, detailing the specifications of your products.

Your supplier should know whether or not your goods fall under hazmat regulations and if they need to be packaged, labeled, and shipped a certain way.  Otherwise, your customs broker will be able to help you determine what exactly you need for your goods.  For public safety, double check the requirements for your goods – or risk heavy penalties against your business.

Read more about shipping hazardous materials and other dangerous goods.

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