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Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC)

Shipping and Transportation of Biological Materials

The shipping and transport of dangerous goods is a highly regulated activity. A large number of people will handle or be in proximity to a package as it travels to its destination. All that protects these people from any hazards within the package is the information provided on or with the package and the packaging itself.

Training Requirement

You must have a training certificate from RPI EH&S to ship biological materials.

Training is a federal requirement and is designed to protect yourself, your coworkers, and the public — drivers, airline staff, crew, pilots, passengers and package recipients.

All individuals involved in the transport of dangerous goods or the preparation of dangerous goods for transport must abide by the International Air Transport/International Civil Aviation and Dept. of Transportation regulations.

More reasons to get training:

  • Successful shipments - Carriers or Federal regulators may open, delay, or reject a shipment if it is improperly packaged.
  • Penalties for violations – Violations can incur civil penalties ($250 – $27,500 per violation per day) and criminal penalties (for willful violations) up to $500K and 5 years in jail.

Critical Issues

  • Classification of the material – Is it regulated? Is it forbidden for transport?
  • Identifying the material – Selection of the proper shipping name.
  • Choosing the right packaging and packaging it correctly.
  • Marking and labeling the shipment correctly.
  • Supplying additional required documentation, including dangerous goods declaration forms.
  • Shipping arrangements, including permits and customs documents for overseas shipments.
  • Transportation on campus; hand carrying and vehicle transport rules.

Biological Material Subject to Shipping and Transport Regulations

In the context of shipping regulations, “Dangerous Goods” are “Articles or substances which are capable of posing a risk to health, safety, property or the environment  and which are shown in the list of dangerous goods in the Regulations or which are classified according to these Regulations.” (49 CFR Parts 100-185 & IATA 1.0).

Biological materials that fall under this definition include:

  • Biological toxins
  • Infectious substances
  • Diagnostic specimens
  • Biomedical waste
  • Cultures
  • Genetically Modified Organisms 

Other biological material that may be regulated via state or federal permits:

  • Plants
  • Plant pests
  • Insects
  • Cell cultures
  • Live animals

Items that frequently accompany shipments of biological material also are regulated:

  • Dry ice
  • Environmental pollutants (for example, formalin)
  • Alcohol
  • Fixative solutions


  1. A USDA veterinary permit may be needed for the importation or interstate movement of materials derived from animals or exposed to animal-source materials. Examples include animal tissues, blood, cells, cell-lines, RNA/DNA extracts, hormones, enzymes, monoclonal and polyclonal antibodies, antisera, immunoassay components/kits, viruses and microorganisms – i.e., bacteria, protozoa, and fungi.

    More information: USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service: http://aphisweb.aphis.usda.gov/forms/index.html#VS16; (301) 734-8695.

  2. A permit may be required from the CDC to import, or to transport within the US, human etiologic agents and potential vectors of human disease.

    More information: CDC Biosafety Office, See CDC web site, "Importation Permits for Etiologic Agents"; (404) 329-3883.

  3. The transfer of Select Infectious Agents and Toxins also is regulated by the USDA.  Each shipment of listed agents must be registered with the USDA through a responsible facility official at both the shipping and receiving entities. Contact the RPI EH&S office to determine the status of an agent before shipping or requesting any Select Agents.

  4. The export of “Etiologic Agents of Humans, Animals, Plants and Related Materials” is regulated by the US Department of Commerce (DOC). A wide variety of etiologic agents of human, plant and animal diseases, including genetic material and products which might be used for culture of large amounts of agents will require an export license. Information may be obtained from the RPI EH&S office or from the DOC Bureau of Export Administration, http://www.bxa.doc.gov/., tel (202) 482-4811. 

Note: Export to certain countries is prohibited.

Transportation of Biological Materials Within and Around the Rensselaer Campus

The following general guidelines apply:

  • Double contain the items plastic leak-proof containers within sturdy outer packaging.
  • Include absorbent material within the containers as well as padding to minimize movement of the container(s) 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.

Dangerous goods are not to be transported in your personal vehicle. This is both a safety and liability issue.

Direct all inquiries to ibc@rpi.edu

Biosafety Overview

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute IBC Form

IBC Amendment Form

Acquiring Approval and Other FAQs

What Must be Registered

NIH Risk Group Classifications

Recombinant DNA

Shipping and Transportation

Biosafety Links

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