Emerging Ethanol Regulations

In my previous blog post (Ethanol: The New HazMat?), it was inaccurate to suggest that ethanol is a completely unregulated chemical. While ethanol is not regulated under the EPA Risk Management Program (RMP) or Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) when used as a fuel (like gasoline), it is still regulated under the EPA “General Duty Clause,” and it is subject to other regulations.

HazMat is short for “hazardous material” which is a term used by the Department of Transportation (DOT) for anything that would be placarded for transport or has a UN/NA number. This also applies to chemicals required by the Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) to have a Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) when it applies to an employer.  Ethanol has a UN number of 1170 and is placarded by the DOT for flammability. It is also listed under the National Fire Protection Act (NFPA) with a rating of health (2), fire (3), and reactivity (0) on a scale of 0-4 with 4 being the worst health hazard. Finally, OSHA’s Process Safety Management (PSM) program does establish a 10,000 lb threshold for flammable liquids and gases as defined in 1910.1200(c) of their standard.

The EPA has recently reviewed ethanol due to growing concerns about increased production and transportation requirements and requested a policy directive from the regulators that control the Oil Pollution Act (OPA) fund. Ethanol is now considered “oil” under the OPA when it is spilled.  In particular it is considered “oil” because (1) it is harmful to fish; (2) it is commonly used as a fuel or fuel additive, and (3) due to the significant increase in use over the last few years.  When released to water, ethanol has an immediate harmful effect on the fish gills’ ability to transfer oxygen and subsequently causes fish kills.  Because it is “polar” (like water), it mixes completely with water unlike oil which floats on top.

Many thanks to John Steinauer (Tetra Tech), Mike Reid (NC Department of Environmental & Natural Resources) and Patrick Lake (NC Division of Emergency Management) for clarifying the intricacies of ethanol’s regulatory status.


Author: David Willauer, Manager, Transportation & Geospatial Technologies Division