The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) has published a final rule that would allow federal hazardous materials (HAZMAT) inspectors to open, detain, remove, and divert suspicious packages in transit for further investigation. 76 Fed. Reg. 11,570 (3/2/11). The rule, which takes effect immediately, amends 49 C.F.R. Part 109 by allowing the inspectors to exercise expanded authority under the Hazardous Materials Safety and Security Reauthorization Act of 2005.

The rule outlines procedures under which inspectors may gain access to open and examine packages for or in transport if they have “reason to believe” that the package may contain undeclared hazardous materials. According to the agency, the rule is aimed at not only reducing undeclared shipments of hazardous materials but also curtailing shipments of improperly packaged and labeled hazardous materials.

Under the rule, inspectors are authorized to detain a shipment for up to 48 hours if they believe the package might pose an imminent hazard and to have it diverted for further analysis. Should the package be found to pose an imminent hazard, the inspector has authority under the rule to render the shipment “out of service.”