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In addition to being able to recognize the types of hazardous materials that might be at the incident site, the responders must be aware of the pertinent regulations covering the handling and disposal of the identified materials. Because of the potential harmful nature of these materials, safety regulations are in place to ensure that only those that do so are properly trained in the handling and disposal requirements of the hazardous substances.

These regulations:

  • Identify the job duties and categories of employees at risk
  • Stipulate the level and frequency of training that is associated with specific exposure risks
  • Mandate the participation in a medical surveillance plan to ensure the ongoing health of exposed employees
  • Address personal protection requirements

Safety Regulations

First and foremost, safety regulations put in place to protect the responders are vital to safely mitigating a hazardous material spill. Employees responding to a hazardous material spill must comply with the

  1. Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) Standard,14
  2. Participate in a medical surveillance program, and
  3. Participate in an employer respiratory protection program.

HAZWOPER Requirements

The HAZWOPER Standard applies to five distinct employer groups and their employees. Transportation department employees are included in these groups since their job duties associated with incidents may fit within one of the following categories:14, 15

  • Clean-up operations required by a governmental body (whether federal, state, local, or other involving hazardous substances) that are conducted at uncontrolled hazardous waste sites;
  • Corrective actions involving clean-up operations at sites covered by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA)16 as amended (42 U.S.C. 9601 et seq.);17
  • Voluntary clean-up operations at sites recognized by federal, state, local, or other governmental body as uncontrolled hazardous waste sites;
  • Operations involving hazardous wastes that are conducted at treatment, storage, and disposal facilities (a semi-trailer or tanker for transportation purposes is included by definition) regulated by Title 40 Code of Federal Regulations Parts 264 and 26518pursuant to RCRA, or by agencies under agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement RCRA regulations; and
  • Emergency response operations for releases of, or substantial threats of release of, hazardous substances regardless of the location of the hazard.

HAZWOPER Training Requirements   

The training requirements for hazardous materials response are mandated by law. Response personnel at the scene of a traffic incident must have HAZWOPER training which fits their role and responsibilities. In general, most responders fall into the awareness level or operations level categories. However, some firemen, DOT personnel, and police officers should be trained as hazardous materials technicians for quick intervention of vehicular or small cargo spills.

Table 5. Training Requirements for Hazardous Materials Response Personnel

Responder Classification Required Number of Hours of Training Demonstrated Competency, Knowledge and Ability Required According to 29 CFR 1910.120 14
First Responder—Awareness LevelIndividuals who are likely to witness or discover a hazardous substance release and who have been trained to initiate an emergency response sequence by notifying the proper authorities. They would take no further action beyond notifying the authorities of the release. No prescribed number of hours/demonstration of competency Have sufficient training or have had sufficient experience to objectively demonstrate competency in the following areas:
  • An understanding of what hazardous substances are and the risks associated with them in an incident
  • An understanding of the potential outcomes associated with an emergency when hazardous substances are present
  • The ability to recognize the presence of hazardous substances in an emergency
  • The ability to identify hazardous substances, if possible
  • An understanding of this individual’s role in the employer’s emergency response plan, including site security and control and the U.S. DOT ERG
  • The ability to realize the need for additional resources and to make appropriate notifications to the communication center
First Responder—Operations LevelIndividuals who respond to releases or potential releases of hazardous substances as part of the initial response to the site for the purpose of protecting nearby persons, property, or the environment from the effects of the release. They are trained to respond in a defensive fashion without actually trying to stop the release. Their function is to contain the release from a safe distance, keep it from spreading, and prevent exposures. 8 hours
  • Have at least the stipulated hours of training or have had sufficient experience to objectively demonstrate competency in the following areas in addition to those listed for the awareness level. The employer must also certify.
  • Knowledge of the basic hazard and risk assessment techniques
  • Ability to select and use proper personal protective equipment provided to the first responder at the operational level
  • An understanding of basic hazardous materials terms
  • Ability to perform basic control, containment, and/or confinement operations within the capabilities of the resources and personal protective equipment available with their unit
  • Ability to implement basic decontamination procedures
  • An understanding of the relevant standard operating procedures and termination procedures
Hazardous Materials TechnicianIndividuals who respond to releases or potential releases for the purpose of stopping the release. 24 hours
  • Have received at least the stipulated hours of training equal to the first responder at the operations level and, in addition, have competency in the following areas. The employer also must so certify.
  • Assume a more aggressive role than a first responder at the operations level in that they will approach the point of release in order to plug, patch, or otherwise stop the release of a hazardous substance
  • Ability to implement the employer’s emergency response plan
  • Know the classification, identification, and verification of known and unknown materials by using field survey instruments and equipment
  • Be able to function within an assigned role in the incident command system
  • Ability to select and use proper specialized chemical personal protective equipment provided to the hazardous materials technician
  • Understand hazard and risk assessment techniques
  • Be able to perform advance control, containment, and/or confinement operations within the capabilities of the resources and personal protective equipment available with the unit
  • Understand and implement decontamination procedures
  • Understand termination procedures.
  • Understand basic chemical and toxicological terminology and behavior

All employees trained in accordance with the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response standards must “receive annual refresher training of sufficient content and duration to maintain their competencies, or shall demonstrate competency in those areas at least yearly. 14

Medical Surveillance Requirement

The medical surveillance requirement for hazardous materials workers is mandated by law. Personnel involved in hazardous materials operations should participate in a medical surveillance program as stipulated in the HAZWOPER regulations.

Members of an organized and designated hazardous materials (HAZMAT) team and the hazardous materials specialists are required to receive a baseline physical examination and be provided with medical surveillance. In addition, any emergency response employees who exhibit signs or symptoms, which may have resulted from exposure to hazardous substances during the course of an emergency incident, either immediately or subsequently after, shall be provided with medical consultation.14

Respiratory Protection Requirements

Respirators may be necessary to protect workers against inhalation hazards, such as dusts, fumes, and vapors. Respirators are categorized into two basic types, air-supplied and air-purifying. Air-supplied respirators provide breathing air from a source other than the surrounding atmosphere. Air-purifying respirators remove contaminants from the ambient air through the use of filters or cartridges.

The respiratory protection requirement for the use of respirators is not only mandated by law, it is a necessity due to the hazardous nature of the work and the likelihood for improper use. Factors, such as facial hair, weight loss/gain, and dental care, can each have a major impact on proper fit. Therefore, it’s important for personnel involved in hazardous materials operations to participate in a respirator protection program based on requirements as stipulated in the HAZWOPER regulations.14

National Tow Truck Driver Certification

Towing & Recovery Association of America (TRAA) represents the towing and recovery industry on a national level. This group has recognized that the tow truck driver can also be a valuable contributor to the safe, quick clearance of an incident. With proper training and certification, they can provide help with the clean-up and handling of typical vehicle fluids at an incident. Because they are often the first at the scene, this assistance serves to reduce the clean-up time and allows for lanes to be opened in a more timely fashion.

Through a grant from the DOT, TRAA established national standards for tow truck operators and developed the National Driver Certification Program. This program is based upon light, medium, and heavy duty towing and recovery, and covers the following areas:

  • Customer service
  • Safety
  • Incident management
  • Truck
  • Equipment

When assisting with traffic incident clean-up involving a hazardous material, the type of requirements for tow truck drivers will depend on the type of incident, the severity of the spill, and the location of the spill relative to the damaged vehicles. More information on the levels and curriculum topics, including handling of hazardous material, is available on the TRAA Web site at

The applicable levels for TRAA tow truck driver certification when dealing with hazardous materials are:

Level 1: For most vehicular spills (car wreck) with only minor amounts of hazardous material spilled, Level I (Light Duty) requirements should be sufficient, provided that tow truck operators are not coming in contact with the spilled material.

Level II: For vehicular spills (medium-heavy duty truck wreck) with moderate amounts of hazardous material spilled (partial saddle tank emptied), Level II (Medium Duty) requirements should be sufficient, provided that tow truck operators minimize their time near the spilled material.

Level III: For large vehicular spills (tanker spill, blood-borne pathogens, etc.), Level III (Heavy Duty) requirements will be necessary to ensure tow truck driver safety.

Response Management and Clean-up Regulations

The regulations dealing with response management, including handling, reporting, and mitigation procedures of hazardous spills, are founded in a number of federal statues rather than just one source. It is important, especially for responders in charge, to know the origin of the various requirements, including the mandated reporting procedures and ensure the proper implementation.

In the U.S., the response to an incident is regulated under many statues and many government agencies. It is important for responders to at least understand the basis of these regulations because they dictate everything, from how they manage a spill to the disposal of the spilt material. These regulations stipulate who should be notified and when it is not necessary, as well as what resources or assistance are available to local and state entities if the containment of a spill is beyond their capabilities. Therefore, some of the major federal laws that responders should have knowledge of are listed in Table 6. Responders should be aware of any local and state regulations that also apply to hazardous materials handling, reporting, and disposal in their jurisdictions.

Table 6. Major Federal Hazardous Materials Incident Regulations

Regulations Description

National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (40 CFR) citation: 300.920 OMB Control No.: 2050-014120

Also known as the National Contingency Plan (NCP)

This is the federal government’s blueprint for responding to both oil spills and hazardous substance releases. This plan is the result of efforts to develop a national response capability and promote overall coordination among the hierarchy of responders and contingency plans.

Congress has broadened the scope of the NCP over the years. As required by the Clean Water Act (CWA) of 197221 the NCP was revised to include a framework for responding to hazardous substance spills as well as oil discharges. Following the passage of the Superfund legislation in 1980, the NCP was broadened again to cover releases at hazardous sites requiring emergency removal actions. Additional revisions have been made over the years to help keep pace with the enactment of legislation, with the last revisions finalized in 1994 to reflect the oil spill provisions of the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.21

National Incident Management System, Homeland Security Presidential Directive22

After the attacks on the World Trade Center, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) was adopted and is being implemented across the nation as the federally mandated incident management system. Under this presidential directive, all communities, states, and federal government agencies will integrate into the NIMS in response to threatened and actual emergencies and disasters of all kinds. The NIMS is being implemented in accordance with criteria set forth in this directive.

Designation, Reportable Quantities, and Notification (40 CFR, Part 302)23

If there is a traffic incident involving a hazardous material release, this regulation will most likely play a large part of the response. These regulations were originally published under the authority of Section 102 of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA),17 the Designation, Reportable Quantities, and Notification regulation.

The regulation identifies the quantity of substances which, when released, sets forth the notification requirements for releases of these substances and spells out the reporting requirements to the National Response Center (NRC). The NRC is the national communications center for the federal government and is staffed 24 hours a day by U.S. Coast Guard officers and marine science technicians. The notification requirement applies to any person in charge of a vessel, facility, or offshore facility. Releases that are continuous and stable in quantity and are not covered by this regulation are subject to reduced reporting requirements.

Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Emergency Release Notification Requirements24

EPCRA plays an important role in hazards material cargo spills. Under EPCRA, any motor vehicle or rolling stock that accidentally releases an extremely hazardous substance into the environment, as defined by the multiple regulations, in an amount greater than or equal to the minimum reportable quantity as required by the EPCRA Emergency Planning and Notification regulation is required to notify Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) and State Emergency Response Commission (SERC). Emergency notification requirements involving transportation incidents can be met by dialing 911, or in the absence of a 911 emergency number, by calling the local operator.

The Consolidated List of Chemicals,25 subject to the EPCRA, was prepared to help companies determine whether they need to submit reports under Sections 302, 304, or 313 of EPCRA and, for a specific chemical, what reports may need to be submitted. This list should be used as a reference tool, not as a definitive source of compliance information. Compliance information for EPCRA is published in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 40 CFR Sections 302, 304 and 31326

Immediate Notice of Certain Hazardous Materials Incidents and Detailed Hazardous Material Incident Reports (49 CFR, Parts 171.15 and 171.16) 3

Two phases of incident reporting are required under this regulation. When a hazardous release occurs during transport, (including loading, unloading, and temporary storage), a telephone notice of a specified incident must be given “as soon as practicable, but no later than 12 hours after the occurrence” of the reportable incident. A follow-up written report (two copies) must be submitted “within 30 days of the date of discovery” on DOT Form F 5800.1.2

Discharge of Oil Regulation (under CWA, 40 CFR 110)27

This regulation is covered by the Clean Water Act, Discharge of Oil.21 The regulation provides the basic conceptual structure for determining whether an oil spill to inland and coastal waters and/or their adjoining shorelines should be reported to the federal government.

The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 (which amended the Clean Water Act)21 broadly defined the term “oil,” also known as the sheen rule. This rule establishes criteria for determining whether an oil spill may be harmful to public health or welfare, thereby triggering reporting requirements. If the spill is determined to be harmful, the person in charge of a facility or vessel is required to report the spill to the federal government. The sheen rule applies to both petroleum and non-petroleum oils (e.g., vegetable oil). Under the Clean Water Act definition, many other substances are considered oils that may not be easily recognizable by industry, including mineral oil, the oils of vegetable and animal origin, and other nonpetroleum oils. As general guidance for any traffic incident, oils fall into the following categories: crude oil and refined petroleum products (e.g. gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, kerosene, etc.), petroleum-derived products (e.g. turpentine), edible animal and vegetable oil, other oils of animal or vegetable origin, and other non-petroleum oils.

Sizing-up a Spill

Once a spill occurs along a roadway, it’s important for response personnel to identify the hazardous substance and prevent the spill from spreading. Initial response personnel should only attempt to determine the extent of the release by gathering and analyzing information. This is called a size-up strategy, and is a non-invasive attempt to get a general picture or impression of the nature and severity of the event

In general, responders should use a size-up strategy to obtain and evaluate the following information:

  • Identity of the materials
  • Amount of the release
  • Hazards associated with each material(s)
  • Effects and risks on the public, property, and environment
  • Potential pathway of release—air, land, surface waters, or groundwater
  • Most appropriate measures for controlling the release to prevent/reduce the impact
  • Safety measures to protect all response personnel

A number of methods can be used to collect information for a size-up strategy. For the most part, responders should use visual observations to assist in detecting the presence or release of hazardous chemicals. Visual methods that may be utilized include the following:

  • Types and numbers of containers or cargo tanks
  • Placards, labels, and markings on containers or transportation vehicles
  • Vapors, clouds, run-offs, or suspicious substances
  • Biological indicators—dead vegetation, animals, insects, and fish
  • Physical condition of containers

At other times, it may be necessary for first responders to utilize quantitative methods (monitoring, sampling, hazard characterization, etc.) to assist in detecting the presence or release of hazardous chemicals. Quantitative methods that are cost-effective and may be utilized at a traffic incident include the following:

  • Colorimetric tubes
  • pH paper
  • Spilfyter classifiers strips

Containment and Confinement

Upon identifying an incidental hazardous substance release, first responders may perform limited clean-up activities provided that the mitigation follows a standard operating procedure and the responder has received adequate training (See previous section on training requirements). Incidental releases should not have the potential for safety or health hazards, such as fire, explosion, or chemical exposures in excess of an OSHA Permissible Exposure Limit (PEL), or exceed the immediately dangerous to life and health level.

For first responders to a small spill, limited clean-up activities may entail basic containment and confinement techniques. Spill containment involves methods used to restrict the material to its original container (e.g. plugging, patching, overpacking, etc.). Spill confinement involves methods to limit the physical size of the area of the release (e.g. mist knockdown/vapor suppression, diversion, diking, booming, absorbing, fencing, and damming). Both methods can be very effective at controlling a hazardous release, if used appropriately. However, response personnel should not utilize either method without appropriate protection and regard for safety.

For small vehicular spills that occur along a roadway, one of the easiest ways to control a spill is the use of granular absorbents, oil absorbent pads, or universal absorbent pads for non-petroleum products. These items are readily available and very effective for remediation of small spills. However, response personnel should understand the properties associated with each, standard operating procedures for utilizing them, and the correct collection and storage methods for contaminated absorbents.

Disposal Guidelines

Once hazardous materials are spilled, the material becomes contaminated and should be either recycled or disposed of properly. Typically, first responders to a traffic incident do not possess the appropriate licenses to perform transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. Professional licensed firms should be contracted to perform this task following the regulations established under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.16

First responders can improve the disposal process by mitigating the spill following a standard operating procedure (SOP). The SOP should account for how to:

  • Mitigate the spill,
  • Package the waste for transport, and
  • Secure the waste until a licensed transportation and disposal company can pick up it up.

More importantly, the SOP should provide first responders with guidance on how to minimize roadway congestion by conducting hazard recognition to determine the hazards presented to the general public.

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