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Check with Health and Safety Before Shipping Hazardous Chemicals

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
July 25, 2007

A recent surprise visit from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration served as a reminder that not everyone on campus knows the ins and outs of shipping hazardous materials.

The inspection went fine; records and paperwork showed UNH has been complying with shipping procedures. Maintaining that record is why Andy Glode, laboratory safety officer for the university’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (OEHS), wants to take this opportunity to cue the community on the FAA requirements.

“The campus needs to be aware of the importance of properly identifying and packaging hazardous materials,” Glode said. “Our office has the tools and expertise available to assist those making hazardous material shipments.”

While it might be obvious that special care is required for certain substances, it is always best to check with OEHS, Glode said. And it’s also worth repeating that hazardous materials usually can’t be sent through traditional mail services; Fed-Ex and UPS are the types of couriers trained to transport such items.

“Certain batteries may be dangerous when shipped,” Glode said. “And they’re found in things people might not think about—like cordless drills.”

Imagine shipping the power tool by air and having it unknowingly stuck in the “on” position. Without the air circulation needed for the fan to keep it cool, the battery pack could overheat and start a fire.

So, does that mean the drill and other similarly powered tools must be sent by ground courier? No, Glode said. For air mail, simply remove the battery and cover the terminals. If a connection can’t be made, it’s safe.

“That’s the kind of thing people probably wouldn’t even think about,” Glode said. “I like to believe a researcher will think twice before putting ethanol or other flammable liquids in the mail. There are other situations, however, where it might not occur to someone that what they want to send could be a problem.”

An example is dry ice. Items packed with dry ice are typically shipped by air to reach their destination more quickly. What’s so hazardous about dry ice, which is commonly used to refrigerate food packages and research samples? It releases large amounts of carbon dioxide as it changes from a solid to a gas. If it is used in a container that doesn’t allow for the release of that gas, it can explode or, if there is a build-up of carbon dioxide in a confined space, it can create an asphyxiation hazard.

The challenge is for people to know the protocols and have a general idea of what’s required, Glode said. OEHS has created guidelines to follow when making certain shipments. Check the OEHS website, http://www.unh.edu/ehs/shipping.htm.

Hazardous materials include but are not limited to laboratory chemicals, dry ice, infectious or potentially infectious materials, strong magnets, aerosol cans, compressed gases, many types of batteries, flare guns, fire extinguishers, radioactive materials and internal combustion engines.

“The safest thing is to check. If people have to think twice or if they have a question, they should give me a call,” Glode said.

Penalties for violating the federal laws for shipping hazardous materials can be up to $500,000 per incident for an organization and up to $250,000 and a year in jail for an individual.

OEHS works to ensure shipments from UNH are made in full compliance with applicable federal and international regulations. For more information contact Glode at 2-5038 or andy.glode@unh.edu.

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