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I look sideways at my daughter and say “Two questions:  What do you think is wrong with this milk, and if it’s bad, why didn’t you throw it away?”.  Of course, I know better than to do this.  Never ask a child two questions at once and expect two answers.  Confirming my belated wisdom, my daughter only answers, “It’s past its expiration date”.  We could go into the usual verbal dance about “sell by” dates versus ‘it’ll definitely be ruined by’ dates, and whether she even smelled it for confirmation or not (turns out she didn’t have the courage for that), or what the answer to my second question is.  Instead, I try to surprise my daughter by turning this from an opportunity for parental lecturing into an opportunity for familial conversation.  Brightly, I say “Hey, did you know sour cream has an expiration date?”.  It works, and we discuss the oddity of how a dairy product already gone “sour” could have a warning about when it might go sour.  Yes, some things you might not expect to have a expiry, do.

I used to do a lot of transport classifications, although these days I seem to spend more time training others to do DG classifications than in doing them myself.  I did a lot of global classifications of chemicals that react with water to release a poisonous (toxic) gas.  Currently, as far as I know, only the USA in its 49CFR regulates these materials in Division 4.3, but it’s expected that as the GHS Subcommittee finishes work on which “category” these materials belong in, the UN DG Subcommittee will adopt these categories as Packing Groups, and regulate them in 4.3.  So, when this happens, how accurate will my old transport classifications be?  My US classifications might or might not have the right PG, but all my other classifications of these materials will need to have 4.3 added, possibly even changing the primary hazard class as well as maybe the PG.

I also classified a lot of materials in the US as “Consumer Commodity”.  As you may or may not know the USA is getting rid of its ORM-D Consumer Commodity re-classification, but has adopted the international air ID8000, Class 9, Consumer Commodity.  However, the ORM-D version of Consumer Commodity covered a wider range of hazard classes and divisions than does the ID8000 version.  It won’t be a simple matter of merely updating a hazard class (ORM-D à 9) and adding an identification number (ID8000).  No, many of my previous Consumer Commodity classifications will soon be wrong.

Around a decade ago, most transport regulations updated their definitions of which liquids and solids need to be put into Division 6.1.  Assuming not enough is known about human toxicity, many materials are classified on the basis of their oral animal toxicity (oral seems to be the most commonly available route of exposure for which data is available).  I know of more than one company that spent a lot of time looking for those liquids with an oral rat LD50 between 300 mg/kg and 500 mg/kg.  It’s true that one factor in this decision is that it was relatively easy to search for and identify liquids in PG III of 6.1.  But another factor was that these materials didn’t need to remain in 6.1 based upon the oral rat LD50, and if there wasn’t any other data, almost all of these liquids got reclassified as ‘non-dangerous’, ‘not HazMat’, ‘non-regulated’ or some related term indicating that the DG regulations don’t apply to them.  This saved a lot of money in packaging and HazMat transport fees.  One might also think that effort was put into searching for and identifying those solids with an oral rat LD50 of 200 mg/kg to 300 mg/kg.  These materials, assuming no other hazards and no definitive human toxicity data, were to go from non-regulated, to 6.1, III.  But it was much harder to go through all the non-regulated materials, which might include glassware or books or services as well as chemicals, than it was to go through the known DG.  And who wanted to now require packaging and HazMat fees that hadn’t applied to these chemicals for years.  I heard more than once, “if we safely shipped it as non-haz for years, it’s not a high priority to get it reclassified”.  So, I’m fairly certain that a number of my ‘non-haz’ classifications of years past are not now accurate.

Gosh, it seems that I’m spending a lot of this column telling you of inaccuracies (past or future) in my transport classifications.  I’d like to think that the inaccuracies are more due to changes in regulations than in a lack of competence on my part.  But even if I were 99.0% accurate, dozens of the thousands of transport classifications that I’ve done over the years are wrong.  One of my previous employers, in part due to my urging when I’d found one of my own mistakes, adopted an informal goal of reviewing each transport classification at 5-year intervals.  After years of struggling to just provide an initial transport classification for every new product, we finally caught up.  So now are they reviewing classifications?  No, now that initial classifications are being done promptly on a regular basis, all ‘excess’ personnel and resources were moved to more urgent business needs, and the 5-year review, or 10-year review, or 50-year review is still just a dream.

But I’m wondering if that dream should be more of a reality, and if dairy products suggest a way to make it a bit more workable?  Last time the 6.1 definitions changed, lots of potential DG didn’t receive reviews.  When 4.3 definitions are updated, will the same thing happen?  I’ve already seen small customers just assume that ORM-D Consumer Commodities are automatically Class 9 Consumer Commodities.  Are more and more classifications becoming classi-fictions?  Training expires, should classifications?  Would putting an expiration date on classification help?

I’m not quite ready to drink that Kool-Aid yet, but I’m pondering it.

Written 3/31/2014 for HCB Magazine