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New Mailing Standards for Hazardous Materials (i.e. Lithium Batteries)

The Postal Service is revising Publication 52, Hazardous, Restricted, and Perishable Mail (Pub 52), to incorporate new requirements for mailers to separate, into identifiable containers, all hazardous material (HAZMAT) requiring hazardous marks or labels from other mail when tendering to the Postal Service.

The Postal Service is also adopting related standard operating procedures for the Postal Service’s acceptance, dispatch, and mail processing personnel to maintain the integrity of HAZMAT separation.

Additionally, the Postal Service will now require pre-owned, damaged, or defective electronic devices containing or packed with lithium batteries to be mailed only via surface transportation and to bear specified markings.

This rule is effective June 6, 2022.

Click for Federal Register notice.

Summary of New Measures:

In addition to preexisting packaging, labeling, and marking requirements and other conditions for mailability, two conditions are necessary to ensure the proper handling and routing of HAZMAT.

The first condition is visibility:

The Postal Service must be aware of HAZMAT shipments in order to accord them appropriate attention. A HAZMAT package can easily evade postal HAZMAT processing if it is nestled beneath non-HAZMAT packages in a bulk mail receptacle. To address this problem, the Postal Service will require mailers tendering a mix of HAZMAT and non-HAZMAT items to present them separately, including in separate mail receptacles with the exception of mail entered at a Destination Delivery Unit (DDU), Destination Sectional Center Facility (DSCF) or Destination Network Distribution Center (DNDC).

In contrast with the 2020 proposed rule, customers are required to separate all HAZMAT from non-HAZMAT, rather than only air-eligible HAZMAT, from other mail. While visibility is important for air-eligible HAZMAT to ensure proper handling, it is also important that surface-only HAZMAT not be erroneously routed to air transportation due to commingling with non-HAZMAT. Separating all HAZMAT from non-HAZMAT will reduce the likelihood of commingling and increase the opportunity for Postal Service personnel to determine the proper procedures for any HAZMAT items presented.

The second condition is separation integrity:

Once recognized, the Postal Service must ensure that HAZMAT is not commingled with non-HAZMAT, lest it be improperly handled or routed. Therefore, the Postal Service is directing personnel to keep HAZMAT items separate from non-HAZMAT items at all points in the mailstream.

This interim final rule also introduces specific labeling requirements for packages containing pre-owned, damaged, or defective electronic devices containing or packed with lithium batteries, and bars them from eligibility for any Postal Service product that makes routine use of air transportation.

Among other things, mailings covered by the new requirements include used items sent pursuant to e-commerce or private sales transactions; lost items being returned to the owner; and items sent for repair, replacement, upgrade, warranty service, diagnostics, recycling, or insurance claims. For clarity, pre-owned electronic devices exclude those that are in new, unopened manufacturer packaging.

The Postal Service and its partner air carriers have identified pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices containing lithium batteries as a particular and growing cause of lithium-battery incidents. Indeed, damaged, defective, and recalled lithium cells and batteries are already ineligible for air transportation. 49 CFR 173.185(f). Beyond devices with damage or defects to batteries themselves, such devices may also have other damage or defects that increase the chances of exposure and ignition of even an intact battery.

Moreover, such devices are highly likely to be packaged without original packaging and have batteries in various conditions and varying states of charge. In contrast with new electronic devices in manufacturers’ original packaging, consumers sending pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices are less likely to be aware of HAZMAT requirements, let alone to comply with them.

As a result of these factors, lithium batteries in pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices pose a particular hazard, as demonstrated by numerous incidents reported to the Postal Service as involving such items. To reduce the risk of such incidents occurring on air transportation, the Postal Service will restrict pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices containing or packaged with lithium batteries to domestic products that use surface transportation.

Consequently, such items will be prohibited in inbound and outbound international mail; mail to, from, and between overseas military and diplomatic addresses; and mail to, from, and within certain domestic locations for which the Postal Service lacks surface transportation. Moreover, to ensure adequate visibility, the Postal Service will require that packages containing pre-owned, damaged, and defective electronic devices containing or packaged with lithium batteries be marked “Restricted Electronic Device” and “Surface Transportation Only,” in addition to any other applicable markings.

As explained in the next section, the Postal Service has decided to implement these requirements immediately, due to the urgency of the danger to personnel, property, passengers, and the public. Nevertheless, the Postal Service is providing the public with a 30-day period for submission of comments on these changes. Following the 30-day public comment period, the Postal Service will review and consider comments received and then publish a further final rule responding to those comments and making any changes to this interim final rule.

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