Key Federal Laws

Other federal laws to consider, including: OSHA and HMTA

Occupational Safety and Health Act

The Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Act (29 U.S.C. 651 et seq.) was enacted in 1970 and amended in 1990. The overall goal of the Act is to insure that employees do not suffer harm from occupational exposure.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), established pursuant to the OSH Act, has several key roles, including 1) developing and issuing occupational safety and health standards and regulations; 2) conducting investigations and inspections to determine the status of compliance; 3) issuing citations and proposes penalties for noncompliance with the regulations; and 4) performing public education and consultation.

OSHA’s safety and health standards are found at 29 CFR 1910. In many cases, enforcement of these standards is by states which have submitted plans to OSHA under section 18(b) of the OSH Act. The OSH Act applies to virtually all private employers in the U.S. with more than 10 employees. Federal and state employees are exempt from direct coverage.

In recent years, much of OSHA’s attention has focused on health issues, and in particular environmental contamination in the workplace. OSHA’s standards for toxic and hazardous substances are found at 29 CFR 1910 Subpart Z. They cover such subjects as air contaminants, asbestos, lead, benzene, ionizing radiation, and hazard communication. For airborne exposure, OSHA establishes "permissible exposure limits" (PELs) to about 420 specific compounds.  These exposure limits are provided in terms of 8-hour averages as well as 15-minute short-term exposures.  In addition, a series of requirements are placed on employers to provide protection, training, information, and monitoring of employees potentially exposed to hazardous substances.

Two other standards are of relevance to the chemical industry.  The process safety management (PSM) standard (29 CFR 1910.119) is designed to prevent or minimize the consequences of catastrophic releases of toxic, reactive, flammable and explosive chemicals. The PSM rule requires employers subject to the rule to have an emergency action plan which specifies the procedures for reporting fires and emergencies. Similarly, the hazardous waste operations and emergency response rule  (29 CFR 1910.120) is intended to limit the possibility of employee exposure to safety or health hazards as a result of hazardous waste operations. The rule covers, among other things, emergency response operations for releases or threat of releases. Covered employers must develop an emergency response plan which includes emergency alerting and response procedures.

In addition to OSHA’s specific standards, section 5(a)(1) of the OSH Act also contains an enforceable general duty clause which covers situations for which no standard exists. The clause requires employers to provide a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees. 

Hazardous Materials Transportation Act

The Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (42 U.S.C. 1801 - 1812) is the principal federal statute governing hazardous materials transportation. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations implementing the Act appear at 49 CFR 171-179. EPA also has regulations issued under RCRA at 40 CFR 263 applicable to transporters of hazardous waste. The EPA and DOT regulations are closely coordinated. Materials regulated under the Act include a broad list of substances including hazardous wastes regulated under RCRA as well as other substances that DOT designates as hazardous under the Act.

Under the regulations implementing the Act, chemical manufacturers and transporters must comply with regulations covering shipment preparation, packaging, labeling, handling, loading and unloading, routing, emergency and security planning, incident notifications, and liability insurance. DOT’s incident report requirements are at 49 CFR 171.16. EPA’s RCRA spill cleanup requirements are at 40 CFR 263.31.

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act

The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (21 USC 321 et seq.) is the basic food and drug law in the U.S.  The law is administered by the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) and is intended to insure that foods are pure and wholesome, safe to eat, and produced under sanitary conditions; that drugs and devices are safe and effective for their intended uses; that cosmetics are safe and made from appropriate ingredients; and that labeling and packaging is truthful, informative, and not deceptive.   Under the FFDCA, chemicals that are food additives; food packaging materials; colorants in food, drugs, or cosmetics; or drugs must be determined to be safe by FDA prior to approval.  Any chemicals covered by FFDCA are explicitly excluded from coverage by the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act (CDTA)

The Chemical Diversion and Trafficking Act (CDTA) was enacted in 1988 as Subtitle A of the Anti-Drug Abuse Amendments of 1988 (codified as amendments to the Federal Controlled Substances Act). CDTA establishes record-keeping and reporting requirements and authorizes enforcement activities for domestic and international transactions in designated precursor and essential chemicals. Chemicals may be added or deleted under standard Federal rule making procedures. CDTA applies to any individual or legal entity that manufactures, distributes domestically, imports, or exports any of the listed chemicals. The Act makes the unauthorized trade in these listed chemicals equivalent to trafficking in illegal drugs. Each chemical has been assigned a threshold amount, by volume or weight, or a threshold number of monthly transactions. Once the threshold has been reached or exceeded, regulated individuals and entities must comply with Federal record keeping, reporting, and identification requirements.

Endangered Species Act

Regulations: 50 CFR 222, 225-227, 402, 450-453

The Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. 1531 – 1544) creates two main processes – designation and protection. The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) in the Department of the Interior determines fish, wildlife, or plant species that are endangered or threatened and also designates critical habitat for the species. An endangered species is an animal or plant listed by regulation as being in danger of extinction. A threatened species is any animal or plant that is likely to become endangered within the foreseeable future (16 U.S.C. 1532). Protective measures under the Act for designated endangered or threatened species include: 1) regulations issued by the FWS to provide for the conservation of such species [16 U.S.C. 1533(d)], 2) consultations between Federal agencies (16 U.S.C. 1536), and 3) issuance of species recovery plans [16 U.S.C. 1533(f)]. Under the Act, no person may take an endangered or threatened species [16 U.S.C. 1538(a)]. The term "take" is broadly defined in the Act to include harassing and harming the species (16 U.S.C. 1532).  Regulations are found at: 50 CFR 222, 225-227, 402, 450-453

National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)

The stated purposes of NEPA 42 (U.S.C. 4321 – 4370) are to to declare a national policy which will encourage productive and enjoyable harmony between man and his environment; to promote efforts which will prevent or eliminate damage to the environment and biosphere and stimulate the health and welfare of man; and to enrich the understanding of the ecological systems and natural resources important to the Nation.

Section 102(C) of NEPA contains the requirement that federal agencies prepare an environmental impact statement covering the environmental impact of proposed actions significantly affecting the quality of the human environment. Issuance of a permit or license can potentially be an action significantly affecting the quality of the human environment.  Regulations for NEPA are at 40 CFR 1500 – 1508.

Other Federal Laws

Atomic Energy Act

The Atomic Energy Act (42 U.S.C. 2011 – 2297) is the principal federal statute governing the use of nuclear materials in the U.S. The Act covers both military and civilian aspects of atomic energy. Under the Act, private and governmental entities licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission are authorized to produce and utilize nuclear materials except for weapons purposes. 

Marine Protection, Research, and Sanctuaries Act (MPRSA)

MPRSA  (33 U.S.C. 1401 - 1445) regulates the ocean dumping of waste, provides for a research program on ocean dumping, and provides for the designation and regulation of marine sanctuaries. Often known as the Ocean Dumping Act, the Act regulates the ocean dumping of all material beyond the territorial limit (three miles from shore) and prevents or strictly limits dumping material that "would adversely affect human health, welfare, or amenities, or the marine environment, ecological systems, or economic potentialities." A permit from EPA is required for transport of any material from the U.S. for the purpose of dumping into ocean waters, as well as dumping of material from outside the U.S. within the territorial sea or contiguous zone.  Regulations for the MPRSA are at 40 CFR 220 - 238.

Noise Control Act

The Noise Control Act (42 U.S.C. 4901 – 4918) declares that it is U.S. policy to promote an environment free from noise that jeopardizes health or welfare [42 U.S.C. 4901(b)]. EPA has issued noise emission regulations for certain products distributed in interstate commerce.  Regulations for this Act are at: 40 CFR 201 – 211.

Additional Wildlife and Conservation Laws

The Endangered Species Act is the most significant federal statute related to wildlife protection. It is also the wildlife-related statute most likely to affect owners of industrial facilities. Other federal statutes related to wildlife with possible application to an industrial facility include the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (16 U.S.C. 703 – 711) which governs the taking of migratory birds; the Wild, Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act (16 U.S.C. 1331 – 1340) which protects free-roaming horses and burros; and the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act (16 U.S.C. 668).

Historic and Cultural Resource Preservation

Requirements of the National Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 661 – 667c) in 36 CFR 60 and 36 CFR 800; the American Antiquities Act (16 U.S.C. 431 – 433) in 25 CFR 261 and 43 CFR 3; the Archaeological and Historic Preservation Act (16 U.S.C. 469) and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act (42 U.S.C. 1996) in 43 CFR 7; and the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (25 U.S.C. 3001 – 3013) in 43 CFR 10 apply to the protection of historic and cultural properties, including both existing properties and those discovered during excavation and construction.

Program office links:
OSHA home page
EPA ESA Summary
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) NEPA
DOE AEA Summary
DOE NHPA Summary

Occupational Safety and Health Act text
HMTA (DOT) 49 CFR 100-185
HMTA (EPA) 40 CFR 263

Related sites:
OSHA Chemical Hazard Communication Guidance
ESA Endangered Species and Wetlands Report


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