What is a HAZWOPER hazardous substance?

Hazardous substances are used in many workplaces and take many different forms. Solids, liquids, gases, mists and fumes can be present in the workplace. Exposure to hazardous substances can effect or damage the body in many different ways – through skin contact, inhalation and ingestion.
In legislation, hazardous substances are defined in a number of ways. They can be those substances classified as toxic, very toxic, corrosive, harmful or irritant. Biological agents and dusts in substantial concentrations are also classified as hazardous substances.

A hazardous substance or material is any item or agent (biological, chemical, radiological, and/or physical), which has the potential to cause harm to humans, animals, or the environment, either by itself or through interaction with other factors. Hazardous materials professionals are responsible for and properly qualified to manage such materials. This includes managing and/or advising other managers on hazardous materials at any point in their life-cycle, from process planning and development of new products; through manufacture, distribution and use; and to disposal, cleanup and remediation.

Hazardous Substance/Material Legal Definitions

Hazardous materials are defined and regulated in the United States primarily by laws and regulations administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), and the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Each has its own definition of a “hazardous material.”

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OSHA Definition

OSHA uses the term “hazardous substance” in Title 29, CFR Part 1910.120, which covers emergency response. The term hazardous substance as defined by OSHA is: “…any substance…which [through exposure] results or may result in adverse affects on the health or safety of employees.” (29 CFR 1910.120(a)(3)).
OSHA’s definition of hazardous substance includes any substance or chemical which is a “health hazard” or “physical hazard,” including:

  • chemicals which are carcinogens, toxic agents, irritants, corrosives, sensitizers;
  • agents which act on the hematopoietic system;
  • agents which damage the lungs, skin, eyes, or mucous membranes; chemicals which are combustible, explosive, flammable, oxidizers, pyrophorics, unstable-reactive or water-reactive; and
  • chemicals which in the course of normal handling, use, or storage may produce or release dusts, gases, fumes, vapors, mists or smoke which may have any of the previously mentioned characteristics.

EPA Definition

The EPA uses the term “hazardous substances” for chemicals that, if released into the environment above a certain amount, must be reported, and depending on the threat to the environment, Federal involvement in handling the incident can be authorized.
The EPA incorporates the OSHA definition, and adds any item or chemical which can cause harm to people, plants, or animals when released by spilling, leaking, pumping, pouring, emitting, emptying, discharging, injecting, escaping, leaching, dumping or disposing into the environment. (40 CFR 355 contains a list of over 350 hazardous and extremely hazardous substances.) A list of the EPA hazardous substances is published in 40 CFR 302.4 – Designation of hazardous substances.

DOT Definition

The DOT defines a hazardous material as any item or chemical which, when being transported or moved in commerce, is a risk to public safety or the environment, and is regulated as such under its Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration regulations (49 CFR 100-199), which includes the Hazardous Materials Regulations (49 CFR 171-180).
In addition, hazardous materials in transport are regulated by the International Maritime Dangerous Goods Code; Dangerous Goods Regulations of the International Air Transport Association; Technical Instructions of the International Civil Aviation Organization; and U.S. Air Force Joint Manual, Preparing Hazardous Materials for Military Air Shipments.

NRC Definition

The NRC regulates materials that are considered hazardous because they produce ionizing radiation, which means those materials that produce alpha particles, beta particles, gamma rays, x-rays, neutrons, high-speed electrons, high-speed protons, and other particles capable of producing ions. This includes  “special nuclear material,” by-product material, and radioactive substances. (See 10 CFR 20).
Put simply, a hazardous substance is anything that through either short-term contact or prolonged exposure, is capable of causing infection or other health-related problems, including serious injury or death.