Shipping and Transporting Biological Materials

Specimen shipments in the United States and internationally are regulated under either the hazardous materials regulations (US) or dangerous goods regulations (international). As such, these specimens require packaging that meets Department of Transportation (DOT) (domestic shipments in the United States) Transportation of Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) and International Air Transport Association (IATA) (international air shipments worldwide) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR).

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) Dangerous Goods Regulations (DGR) classifies infectious substances into two categories: Biological substance - Category A and Biological substances - Category B.

Biological Substance - Category A: an infectious substance which in a form that, when exposure to it occurs, is capable of causing permanent disability, life-threatening or fatal disease in otherwise healthy humans or animals. The proper shipping names for these substances are: UN2814 (infectious substances, affecting humans) and UN2900 (infectious substances, affecting animals.)

Biological Substance - Category B: An infectious substance which does not meet the criteria for inclusion in Category A. Infectious substances in Category B must be assigned to UN 3373. Included in Category B are all non-Category A human and animals specimens (blood, blood components, excreta, secreta, tissues, etc.) shipped for any purpose. This includes even shipments from healthy subjects for simple blood test or drug testing. These are called "Exempt Human Specimens/Exempt Animal Specimens". 

Note: Environmental samples (including food and water samples) which are not considered to pose a significant risk of infection are generally not subject to the IATA or USDOT shipping requirements.

Note: Category B infectious substances are not permitted for transport in carry-on or checked baggage and must not be carried on a person.

Required Training

All persons who offer shipment Category A or Category B substances are mandated to a have a Shipping and Transporting of Biological Materials Training Certificate prior to offering the package for shipment. Training is valid for 2 years and includes training required for shipping with Dry Ice.

To register for Shipping and Transport of Biological Materials Training, email Javier.Garcia1@utrgv.edu and provide your first name, last name, and employee ID number. An email with the link will be forwarded to the registrants so they may access online training. Once completed, a certificate will be emailed to you within 24 hours.

This is comprehensive training for shipping Category A Infectious Substances, Biological Substances Category B, Patient Specimens, Dry Ice and preservative chemicals such as formalin, alcohol, etc. to US DOT and IATA/ICAO regulations.

Comments Regarding Ice and Dry Ice Shipments

Although clinical specimens can be shipped with ice or dry ice, the CDC discourages using either of these methods for shipping, as ice has been known to leak in transit and dry ice has caused concerns on the part of air transport carriers. The simplest way to maintain cold temperatures for clinical specimens is to use ice packs as the primary coolant.

Transporting Biological Materials Within And Around UTRGV 

Double contain the items in plastic, leak-proof containers within sturdy outer packaging. Include absorbent material within the containers as well as padding to minimize movement of the containers within the outer packaging. Wipe the outer container with an appropriate disinfectant before removing it from the laboratory and apply a biohazard sticker if applicable. Put your name and contact information on the package. Individuals transporting biohazardous agents should be knowledgeable about handling spills.

UTRGV policy states that dangerous goods are not to be transported in your personal vehicle. This is both a safety and liability issue. Use a state vehicle instead.

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