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Importing Chemicals Into The US: TSCA Compliance and More

Palletized and wrapped chemicals in a warehouse awaiting shipment.
We answer your questions about importing chemicals into the U.S. Find out what licenses and certifications you’ll need to comply with the EPA and CBP.
March 1, 2024
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Last Modified: March 1, 2024

Importing chemicals into the U.S. is lucrative, but difficult. It’s a process filled with rules and paperwork. Getting all the required licenses and certifications can feel like a never-ending ordeal. Importers must follow rules and regulations put in place by government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to protect the public.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) requires importers bringing chemicals into the US to follow regulations from the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) and EPA guidelines. Importers must ensure proper documentation, including TSCA certifications, to clear customs efficiently. Compliance is key for successful entry.

Ready to unlock the formula behind successfully importing chemicals? Join us as we review the licenses, procedures, and guidelines bringing chemicals into the United States from overseas.

The Basics of Importing Chemicals into the US

Importing chemicals into the US requires the use of multiple transportation modes, including ocean freight via containers such as those shown in this image.

Let’s start by looking into the requirements set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for chemical importers. The EPA regulates environmental and public health standards. Its regulations are a critical consideration for chemical importers in the USA.

A huge part of these regulations is the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). This act governs the introduction of chemicals into the U.S. market. Understanding the TSCA is crucial to making sure your imports comply with U.S. law during the customs clearance process.

How Do I Comply With TSCA Requirements?

Compliance starts with sending one of the previously mentioned certifications to CBP. If the chemical isn’t listed on the TSCA Inventory, you’ll need to submit a Pre-manufacture Notification (PMN) at least 90 days prior to shipment. A Significant New Use Agreement (SNUR) will be required if you plan to use the chemicals in significantly new ways. Finally, keeping your CDR up to date is key to staying compliant and keeping regulatory agencies off your back.

What is TSCA in Customs?

The TSCA is basically the playbook for importing chemicals into the United States. Administered by the EPA, this act was created to regulate the introduction and use of chemicals within the USA. It’s used to protect public health from dangerous chemical interactions.

Let’s get familiar with some key regulations and terms associated with the TSCA. 

  • PMN :Importers use this to notify the EPA before bringing in new chemicals not listed on the TSCA Inventory.
  • SNUR: Obligates companies to notify the EPA before using chemicals in ways that might pose new risks.
  • Chemical Data Reporting (CDR): Mandates regular submission of data about the production and use of certain chemicals.
  • Risk Evaluation and Mitigation : Enables the EPA to evaluate and reduce or eliminate risks associated with existing chemicals.

While it’s not feasible to list every chemical under TSCA, here’s a general overview of the types of chemicals are regulated by the act:

  • Industrial Chemicals: This includes those used in manufacturing processes, such as solvents and polymers.
  • Commercial Chemicals: These are found in cleaning products, paints, and coatings.
  • Specialty Chemicals: Substances used in specific applications like electronics and automotive industries.
  • Commodities Chemicals: Bulk chemicals like acids and alkalis that are used by various manufacturers.
  • Synthetic Organic Chemicals: Man-made compounds, including plastics and synthetic rubber.
  • Biochemicals: These are produced through synthetic processes intended for industrial use.
  • Intermediates: Chemical substances used in the production of other compounds.
  • New Chemical Substances: Any chemical substance that is not listed on the TSCA Inventory. These require a PMN before manufacture or import.

The TSCA’s scope is broad, and the EPA regularly updates its inventory to ensure it covers.  all existing chemical substances that may be imported  The EPA also lists chemicals that are exempt from the TSCA.

What Chemicals Are Not Subject to the TSCA?

Sacks of dried chemical goods palletized and loaded onto a flatbed trailer for transport.

Certain chemicals don’t fall under TSCA purview. They’re not excluded because they’re considered less dangerous than those governed by the TSCA. If anything, the unique potential for their misuse means they’re overseen by specialized agencies.

These chemicals are generally not subject to the TSCA, but may fall under the jurisdiction of other agencies.

  • Certain nuclear materials
  • Ammo and firearms
  • Food and food additives
  • Pesticides
  • Tobacco
  • Cosmetics
  • Drugs

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) are some of the agencies that oversee non-TSCA chemicals. Those that do fall under the act must meet certain requirements to enter the country.

TSCA Requirements for Importing Chemicals

If a chemical is on the TSCA Inventory, it must be certified before arrival in the U.S. There are two kinds of certification:

  • Positive Certification: A statement from the importer that the shipment complies with all rules or orders under the TSCA.
  • Negative Certification: A similar statement indicating that the shipment is not subject to TSCA regulations.

The regulations set forth in the act are designed to prevent unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. It’s ultimately the importer of record’s (IOR) responsibility to make sure the imported goods meet regulations. 

Not all chemicals are treated equally. Polychlorinated biophenyls (PCBs), metalworking fluids, and water treatment chemicals have stricter importing guidelines than others, which may severely limit or completely prohibit their import.  

We’ve talked a little about the PMN in earlier sections. Chemical importers cannot afford to overlook this important notice. The PMN must be submitted at least 90 days before importing new chemicals into the U.S. 

For the purposes of importing, any chemical that isn’t on the TSCA inventory is considered to be new. Importers must submit the PMN within the specified time frame, or risk interruptions to their shipments.

We also discussed SNURs briefly. Those who plan to use imported chemicals for a “significant new use” must notify the EPA at least 90 days prior to the import transaction. For example, if you plan to import helium so you can inflate balloons, it falls under expected use. If you plan to import helium as part of an invention or new research process, SNURs will probably apply.

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The EPA’s Role in Importing Chemicals to the USA

The EPA plays two huge roles in importing chemicals to the United States:

  • Creation of policies
  • Enforcement of those policies

Importers who fail to abide by the regulations and policies set by the EPA risk dealing with enforcement measures. While the agency suffered from budget cuts in the last decade, it’s currently rebuilding and expanding its enforcement efforts.

EPA Enforcement Actions by the Numbers

1.21 BillionEstimated pounds of pollutants destroyed by enforcement actions.
70 PercentIncrease in criminal investigations over 2022.
$708 MillionPenalties, fines, and restitution paid by violators in 2023.

Source: epa.gov

With inspections and enforcement on the rise, importers must carefully follow EPA regulations or face crippling penalties. An important aspect of following these regulations is proper documentation.

Documentation for Chemical Imports

You’ll need several documents to prove that your chemicals are safe and legal under United States law. Some of these are unique to chemicals, while others are necessary for all imports. 

Here’s a quick look at these key documents.

  • TSCA Import Certification

As stated previously, a positive or negative certification must accompany shipments of TSCA-regulated chemicals

  • Safety Data Sheets (SDS)

These sheets give all the details about your chemicals, like what they are, the dangers they might pose, and how to handle them safely.

  • Notice of Arrival (NOA)

For some chemicals, you need to file an NOA with the EPA. This notice mostly pertains to pesticides.

  • Bill of Lading (BoL)

This is a receipt from the shipping company. It lists your commodities, the quantity thereof, and the shipment’s destination.

  • Commercial Invoice

This shows the deal between the seller and buyer. It describes the goods, how much they cost, and how the sale was made.

  • Packing List

This tells exactly what’s in each package, including weights and sizes. During an inspection, CBP may compare this to the actual shipment in search of errors or criminal activity.

  • Entry Forms (CBP Form 7533 or CBP Form 3461)

The CBP requires these for good entering the U.S. It provides information about the imported goods and the carrier transporting them.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve properly filled out and filed all necessary paperwork, consider working with a customs broker or consultant. They can put their knowledge to work for you.

How to Import Chemicals into the USA: A Step-by-Step Guide

A forklift operator moving a pallet of chemicals in a warehouse.

We’ve reviewed the documents, agencies, and regulations involved in importing chemicals. Now let’s see what a typical chemical import transaction looks like from start to finish.

  • Research and Compliance 

The importer must verify that the chemical substance is listed on the TSCA Inventory. They’ll also need to determine if it is subject to pre-manufacture notices (PMN) or significant new use rules (SNURs).

  • Finding a Supplier

 The importer reaches out to a Canadian exporter for the chemicals they wish to import. They reach terms after verifying the chemicals meet EPA guidelines. 

  • TSCA Import Certification Preparation

The chemicals are found on the TSCA Inventory. The importer prepares a positive TSCA certification.

  • Obtain SDS

The importer gets the safety sheets from the Canadian exporter. These are essential for displaying the chemical’s properties, hazards, and handling instructions.

  • Notice of Arrival

If required, the importer submits an NOA. 

  • Customs Documentation

The importer gathers all necessary customs documentation, including the Bill of Lading, Commercial Invoice, and Packing List.

  • Partner With a Customs Broker

To avoid snags in the import process, the buyer hires a customs broker.

  • Customs Clearance

The customs broker submits the import documentation to CBP and the EPA (if required), handling any questions or issues that arise during the clearance process.

  • Receive Shipment

CBP clears and releases the shipment. The importer then arranges for transportation from the port of entry to their facility.

  • Record Keeping

The importer maintains records, including the TSCA Import Certification and SDS, for at least three years as required by law.

Remember that specific details may vary depending on the nature of the chemical other regulatory requirements. Working closely with an experienced customs broker will go a long way toward ensuring your shipment arrives hassle-free.

Importing Chemicals Into the United States With USA Customs Clearance

It’s clear that importing chemicals into the U.S. requires careful preparation and a deep understanding of regulations. That’s where partnering with a seasoned customs broker can help.

At USA Customs Clearance, we offer a suite of services designed to streamline your chemical import process:

Don’t let complex regulation slow down your chemical import business. Partner with USA Customs Clearance to ensure your imports are compliant, efficient, and hassle-free. Contact us today online or at (866) 753-4423 to learn more about how we can help you get through the import process with confidence.

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