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As a haz-mat seminar instructor, I get a lot of questions on hazardous material shipping papers and hazardous waste manifests. One is “what is the “RQ” on the shipping paper mean and when does it have to be used?” The reportable quantity or hazardous substance requirements must always be considered when shipping hazardous material, wastes and marine pollutants.

To understand the hazardous substance notation and mark, you must start in the definitions in Section 171.8 of the 49 CFR Department of Transportation hazardous material regulations. The definition of a hazardous substance comes in 2 parts. First, to be a hazardous substance, a chemical must be listed by its chemical name or waste code, in appendix A to the 171.102  Hazardous Materials Table. Number two, it must be contained in one container, in an amount that equals or exceeds the amounts listed for that chemical in Appendix A.

Sometimes applying the designation is simple, for example, a shipment of the chemical  “Acetone”, the pure chemical, Acetone is listed in the 172.101 Hazardous Materials Table and also listed in Appendix “A”, the List of “Hazardous Substances” and “Reportable Quantities” to the Table . Appendix “A” lists “Acetone” with an “RQ” value of 5000 pounds. So in the case of a tank car full of Acetone over 5000 pounds, the shipping description must include the “RQ” designation on the shipping paper before or after the basic description of the material. Under DOT it is a shipping paper and container marking requirement only.

                                               “RQ”, UN1090, ACETONE, 3, II

Why, because of CERCLA, The Comprehensive Environmental Response Liability Act, or Superfund, which appeared after the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act or RCRA. Which probably means almost little or nothing to you. But on these two foundations, RCRA and CERCLA, my families’ legacy is built.


Back in the mid-70s, while I was still physically, but not practically or legally graduating from high school, my father was running a small company, he had recently purchased. It had been a division of McGraw-Hill Publishing Company, they had started to train and certify doctors, lawyers, accountants and truck drivers on regulatory compliance.

 The name of the driver training modules was “The Transportation Skills Program”. If I remember correctly these training modules, focused on driver related issues such as claim prevention and driver logs. Bob, my father, had been hired by McGraw-Hill to train their salesman. But, what really peaked his interest was the single transportation module on the DOT hazardous materials transportation regulation’s training requirements. Dad felt it could be the most successful because he had noticed on his sales calls with his salesman during their training, that the customers seem to have a lot of difficulty understanding and meeting the new Department of Transportation hazardous material training regulations.

So, later when McGraw-Hill shut down this division, he purchased the rights to the “Transportation Skills Program “ and started running his “Hazardous Material Seminars” and focusing much of his efforts into his newly formed Hazardous Materials Publishing Company which produced the seminar’s compliance guide and training materials.  He did fairly well, but not great, then the major transportation association that had sponsored his seminars, for the first couple of years, ended their relationship with him and continued running seminars in competition. So, to be honest, at that point, he was struggling. 

That is when Tim, my older brother, a pioneer and a living legend in his own right in the North American Hazardous Waste Industry, relayed the number of times dad’s seminar attendees had asked him about the new EPA hazardous waste regulations better known as RCRA.  RCRA, under the Environmental Protection Agency, had immediately turned many of our shippers and carriers into generators and transporters and us into one of the first hazardous waste shipping and management experts. Little known fact, my father trained the original EPA hazardous waste inspectors on the DOT hazardous waste manifest requirements.

So, what does this all have to do with hazardous substances? Nothing. The term “hazardous substance” was coined under CERCLA, The Comprehensive Environmental Resource Conservation Liability Act. See RCRA, only covered companies “generating” hazardous waste. CERCLA, would cover chemicals that had been, or would be “spilled or released” in the past and in the future respectively, regardless of them being hazardous waste, or not, at the time of their release.

You have to think of the word “ release” if you want to understand the word “hazardous substance”,  it means a regulated release or spill of a chemical, that is already regulated under other regulations. In other words, CERCLA didn’t regulate new chemicals, it brought chemicals that where under other environmental statutes, under new release requirements. 


The “hazardous substances” listed under  CERCLA, would include; Hazardous Air Pollutants under the Clean Air Act (CAA), Toxic Pollutants under the Clean Water Act (CWA), Imminently Hazardous Chemical Substances under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and all listed and characteristic Hazardous Wastes under RCRA, and are required to be reported by EPA to the Homeland Security’s United States Coast Guard National Response Center, when released in amounts that equal or exceed their listed “RQ” values into the environment.

EPA regulates hazardous substances, but so does DOT and OSHA. CERCLA mandated release requirements for all three agencies; DOT to regulate transportation releases, EPA to regulate environmental releases and OSHA to protect workers when these hazardous substances were released.



The CERCLA Section 101(14)  hazardous substances, are listed by chemical name and their Waste codes in 40 CFR 302.4. Did you know that the 49 CFR DOT Appendix A, List of Hazardous Substances of 172.101 Hazardous Materials Table, is simply a duplicate of the EPA 40 CFR 302.4, List of Hazardous Substances? Both lists give an Adipic Acid a 5,000 pound “RQ” value, Aldrin a 1 pound “RQ” and Allyl Alcohol a 100 pound “RQ”.

That is why the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency maintain separate lists of hazardous substances, one, in Appendix A of DOT and the other in Section 302.4 of EPA. The Department of Transportation list is for marking shipping containers and paperwork and the Environmental Protection Agency list is used for reporting to the National Response Center. DOT requires shippers of hazardous materials and waste to consult Appendix “A” and determine when a container could equal or exceed an RQ amount, then mark the shipping paper and non bulk container with the names of the hazardous substances and the letters “RQ”, so that in the event of a release the shipper and the carrier would know, that each DOT container could be subject to EPA notification requirements if some or all of its contents were released in transportation.



49 CFR  paragraph 172.203(c) requires that shippers list the names of two reportable quantity chemicals with the lowest  “RQ” values, if not shown in the shipping name on the shipping paper in association with the basic description, it should be noted if the material is a hazardous waste the shipper may use a waste code to designate the contents of the “RQ” hazardous substance. The second requirement on shipper documentation would be the notation “RQ” in front or after the basic description of the hazardous substance shipment. There is a third requirement in Section 173.323 for non-bulk containers to display the names of the hazardous substance and the letters “RQ” in association with the shipping name and UN number. By the way there is never a requirement to list the “RQ” amount such as “RQ 5000” pounds or “RQ 1 pound”, though many do.


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As I mentioned OSHA also regulates hazardous substances, under the “1910.120 hazardous waste operations and emergency response regulations”, which does not make you mark anything or notify anyone. The HAZWOPER worker protection regulations only requires you to protect workers from these very same hazardous substances, when cleaning up past spills or responding to current releases.

I tell people in the seminar, when you see a “hazardous substance” under DOT, pick up a marker, when you see one uunder EPA, pick up a phone, but when you see a hazardous substance under OSHA, put on a spill suit. If you’re not sure of the information presented on your hazardous material shipping papers or hazardous waste manifest attend one of our upcoming seminars or give us a call or drop us an email with your questions or concerns. 

Thank you for your readership and support.

Robert J. Keegan
Publisher and President
Hazardous Materials Publishing Company
Transportation Skills Programs Inc.