Shipping Chemicals? Not So Fast …

The EPA requires that anyone who manufactures, imports, or exports hazardous chemicals must comply with TSCA. The Act requires that anyone who wants to manufacture or import a chemical not listed on the TSCA list of chemicals must notify the EPA at least 90 days before producing or importing the new chemical substance. TSCA also imposes reporting requirements for anyone who exports hazardous chemicals subject to TSCA. TSCA’s rules are enforced by both the EPA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (CBP).


The Mercury Export Ban Act (MEBA) amended TSCA to prohibit the export of elemental mercury from the United States effective January 1, 2013. The Act is intended to reduce the availability of elemental mercury in domestic and international markets. By reducing the supply of elemental mercury in commerce, the Act aims to reduce the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining and for other commercial purposes globally.

In addition, federal agencies are prohibited from conveying, selling, or distributing elemental mercury that is under their control or jurisdiction. This includes stockpiles held by the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Department of Defense.

The Act also required the DOE to designate facilities for long-term management and storage of elemental mercury generated within the United States.

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The MEBA applies to elemental mercury, not mercury compounds. The EPA does not consider the materials listed below, for example, to generally fall within the scope of the export and federal agency transfer bans:

  • Products (consumer and nonconsumer), including discarded products;
  • Dental amalgam (predosed capsule form);
  • Scrap metal and used electronics;
  • Media (including groundwater, surface water, soils, and sediment) and debris that are managed for implementing cleanup;
  • Reference materials in which the mercury occurs as contamination in media (e.g., soil, sediment, water, sludge);
  • Industrial, commercial, and remediation residuals; and
  • By-products of coal combustion.

 Note, however, that the EPA believes that any export or federal agency transfer of materials containing elemental mercury, including the above examples, with the intent to recover the elemental mercury for resale or reuse would be banned. This is consistent with the purposes of the MEBA.

In addition to the examples above, the MEBA specifically excludes from the bans transfer and export of coal that may contain elemental mercury.


No person may import polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) or PCB items for disposal without an exemption issued under the authority of TSCA.

No person may export PCBs or PCB items for disposal without an exemption, except that PCBs and PCB items at concentrations less than 50 parts per million (ppm) may be exported for disposal.

For example, the EPA may grant an exemption to a specific petitioner to export PCBs for use in small quantities for research and development, or an exemption may be granted for the import of a small quantity of existing PCB fluids from electrical equipment for analysis.

The EPA must receive a petition for an exemption from the PCB prohibition on imports and/or exports 60 days before engaging in these activities (40 CFR 761.80).

PCBs and PCB items of unknown concentrations are treated as if they contain greater than 50 ppm (40 CFR 761.97).

The following PCB shipments are not considered exports or imports:

  • PCB waste generated in the United States, transported outside the customs territory of the United States (including any residuals resulting from cleanup of spills of such wastes in transit) through another country or its territorial waters, or through international waters, and returned to the United States for disposal. Examples of such territories and possessions are Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) including Saipan, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • PCB waste in transit, including any residuals resulting from cleanup of spills during transit, through the United States (e.g., from Mexico to Canada, from Canada to Mexico).
  • PCB waste transported from any state to any other state for disposal, regardless of whether the waste enters or leaves the customs territory of the United States, provided that the PCB waste or the PCBs from which the waste was derived were present in the United States on January 1, 1979, and have remained within the United States since that date.

This exemption allows U.S. territories and possessions that fall outside of the definition of "customs territory of the United States" to dispose of their PCB waste in the mainland of the United States where facilities are available that can properly dispose of PCB waste.

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All hazardous chemical exports, including pesticides, must meet the federal hazardous chemical requirements under TSCA. In addition, the EPA has additional export requirements for nonregistered pesticides. Companies manufacturing pesticides for export to another country must comply with specific labeling and notification rules under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) regulations.