What You Need to Know About Shipping Hazardous Materials


The shipment of hazardous materials is a very complicated and regulated process, and one that requires great care and a high level of expertise to complete safely and successfully. The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) regulates the transportation of hazardous materials. According to the requirements of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act (HMTA), “No person may offer or accept hazardous material for transportation in commerce unless that person is registered…and the hazardous material is properly classified, described, packaged, marked, labeled, and in condition for shipment as required or authorized.”

The full regulations required for compliance with the HTMA are listed here, but we’ll give you an overview to save you time and sanity. Or, you can visit your local Pak Mail.

First, it is important to understand what qualifies as a hazardous material. There are nine classes of hazardous materials, including:

  1. Explosives – Mass explosive, projection, mass fire, minor explosion, and insensitive explosive hazards
  2. Gases – Flammable, non-flammable, and poisonous/toxic
  3. Flammable Liquid – Materials whose Flash Point (FP) is not more than 141F
  4. Flammable Solids – Flammable, spontaneously combustible, and dangerous when wet
  5. Oxidizing Substances; Organic Peroxides
  6. Poisonous (Toxic) and Infectious Substances
  7. Radioactive Material
  8. Corrosives
  9. Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods – Environmentally hazardous, elevated temperature, hazardous wastes, and marine pollutants

According to the U.S. DOT, there are over four-billion tons of hazardous materials shipped in the United States each year. The bulk of this is shipped via truck or rail containers, but a significant percentage of the total is converted into individual shipments for delivery to the end customer/user. Regardless of the mode of shipment or provider (US Postal Service vs. a private shipping company), the HMTA regulations and the DOT have primary jurisdiction. If shipping via the USPS, there are a separate set of requirements for the preparation of any shipment that can be found here (see Section 10.0 Hazardous Materials).

Packaging and labeling make up a large number of the regulations for the transportation of hazardous materials. The HTMA utilizes the recommendations of the United Nations for “Performance Oriented Packaging.” According to the HTMA, “Packaging requirements are based on the Packing Group of the material, its vapor pressure, and chemical compatibility between the package and the HM.” In all cases, it is the responsibility of the shipper to ensure the packaging’s manufacturing and assembly are in accordance with all rules and regulations. There are extensive packaging testing and performance tests to ensure that the package meets all requirements of the regulation.

There are a variety of different rules and regulations specific to individual private shipping companies that require adherence. It is typical to see a set of prohibited and acceptable materials for each mode of shipment (ground, air, freight, etc.). There are violations of hazardous material regulations that have resulted in civil or criminal penalties. Fines up to $300,000 have been imposed, as well as probation, home confinement, and jail time for companies and individuals responsible.

The best and safest practice when shipping hazardous materials is to choose a shipping provider and then work directly with that provider to ensure all of their individual requirements are met, as well as the regulations of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Pak Mail is committed to safe shipping and therefore does not accept, pack, or ship hazardous materials of any kind.

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