Hazmat: Sobering truth about transporting hazmat

I work with a pharmacy shipping medicines and related medical products via air express to patients and hospitals. Is there any problem if we ship a bottle of disinfecting alcohol in the carton with the medicines?

There is a problem if certain regulatory steps are not taken. The practice is authorized, but the presence of the alcohol must be brought to the attention of the air carrier because alcohol is regulated as a hazardous material. This is true whether the package is offered to a passenger or an all-cargo air carrier, and regardless of bottle size.

Alcohol is regulated in domestic and international land, sea and ocean transport as a flammable liquid in UN Class 3. Exclusions for aqueous mixtures having less than 24% alcohol and for alcoholic beverages do not apply to 70% isopropyl alcohol.

The aviation rules applied by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), other governments and the airlines are published by the Montreal-based International Air Transport Association (the IATA Dangerous Goods Regulations).

As stated in the IATA Regulations, this material would be described as "Alcohol, n.o.s. (Isopropanol), UN1987" in Class 3, Packing Group II (or III, depending on flashpoint). The breakpoint between Packing Group II and III is a closed-cup flashpoint of 23°C (73°F). A material with a flashpoint above 23°C is not regulated in air transportation as a flammable liquid.

Relief from UN performance-standard packaging requirements is available if the quantity shipped is below the threshold set for "limited quantities" (see IATA 2.8). For example, alcohol with a flashpoint in Packing Group II may be shipped as a limited quantity by air in an inner bottle having a maximum capacity of 1.0 liter. This relief, however, only addresses the packaging. Limited quantity cartons still must be marked, labeled and documented.

Additional relief is provided for limited quantities that are "consumer commodities," defined in IATA to include items administered or sold to patients by doctors or medical administrations. Use of this exception would remove the need for you to apply a Class 3 flammable liquid label from the outer carton, but instead a Class 9 label would have to be affixed.

If you choose the IATA consumer commodity option, the shipping description would change. The certified shipper's declaration would have to tell the air carrier that the packages contain a "consumer commodity" as the proper shipping name, Class 9, ID 8000, the type of package and quantity, and a reference to IATA Packing Instruction 910.

Only within the U.S., and only with acceptance by the air carrier, additional consumer commodity relief can result in removing the Class 9 label, but the packages still would have to be marked and declared on shipping papers as hazmat.

More important than the details of packaging and documentation is the DOT requirement in 49 CFR Part 172, Subpart H, for an employer to certify that people preparing hazmat cartons have been trained and tested on the transportation requirements. This training must include general awareness of the hazmat regulatory system, the functions performed by the employee (including packaging rules for hazmat by air), safety training on what to do with a spill, and security.

These requirements are not difficult to manage once in place, but to ship isopropanol without meeting the requirements subjects the shipper to civil penalties of up to $30,000 per violation. An undeclared hazmat shipment violates up to 25 specific DOT regulations, and penalty assessments for a small bottle often reach $80,000. In addition to penalties, the public relations and civil liability for injuries to people or aircraft can be overwhelming.

I recommend that the company look not just at the alcohol but at medicines being shipped. Meeting the IATA definitions of hazmat needs to be addressed in company training and usually in packing, marking, labeling and documentation of air shipments.

Lawrence Bierlein is a partner with McCarthy, Sweeney & Harkaway, P.C. in Washington, D.C. His practice is devoted to issues involving transportation of hazardous materials. He can be reached at 202.775.5560, [email protected]

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