Skip to main content Skip to navigation
Office of Research Assurances Institutional Biosafety Committee

Shipping regulations

Transport of biological materials for research and diagnostic services

Biological materials may require specific packaging, labeling, and documentation for transport. Federal and international authorities closely surveil shipments of hazardous materials or dangerous goods—including diagnostic specimens and infectious substances.

Anyone shipping diagnostic specimens from humans or animals, or shipping cultures of substances infectious to humans and/or animals, must have documented training. Materials must be properly classified. Regulatory provisions for shipment must be met prior to shipment, including export control review requirements for international packages.

Preparing dangerous goods for transport

Shippers are responsible for completing these steps.

1. Determine classification

United Nations Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods defines 9 classes of hazardous substances:

  • Class 1: Explosives
  • Class 2: Gases
  • Class 3: Flammable liquids
  • Class 4: Flammable solids
  • Class 5: Oxidizing substances
  • Class 6: Toxic and infectious substances
  • Class 7: Radioactive material
  • Class 8: Corrosives
  • Class 9: Miscellaneous dangerous substances and articles (including environmentally hazardous substances, as well as genetically modified organisms and micro-organisms)

Biological agents typically fall into classes 6 and 9. Class 9 is required for dry ice, often used when shipping biological material.

2. Identify the proper code

Using the Dangerous Goods List in Volume 1 of the United Nations Recommendations, find the UN number that corresponds to the substance you intend to ship. For example:

Class 6, Division 6.1:
Toxic substances

Toxins from plant, animal, or bacterial sources that do not contain any infectious substance

  • UN 3172: Toxins, extracted from living sources, liquid, n.o.s.
Class 6, Division 6.2:
Infectious substance, Category A

An infectious substance known to contain or suspected of containing a pathogen. It is transported in a form capable of causing permanent disability, life-threatening or fatal disease in otherwise healthy humans or animals when exposure occurs.

  • UN2814: Infectious substances, affecting humans
  • UN2900: Infectious substances, affecting animals only
Biological substance, Category B

An infectious substance that is not in a form generally capable of causing permanent disability or life-threatening or fatal disease in otherwise healthy humans or animals when exposure occurs

  • UN3373: Biological substance, Category B
Clinical waste

Waste that does not meet the criteria for more hazardous infectious substances

    • UN3291: Clinical waste, unspecified, not otherwise specified (n.o.s.), or (bio) medical waste, n.o.s. or regulated medical waste, n.o.s. (class or division 6.2)

3. Contact the Office of Research Assurances for assistance with the following:

      • Selecting the proper packaging
      • Packing
      • Marking and labeling
      • Completing documentation
      • Making shipping arrangements

Consequences of non-compliance

Failure to comply with regulations for shipping hazardous material may result in any of the following:

      • Increased risk of material release during the shipping process
      • Refusal or return of packages (particularly problematic with temperature-sensitive materials)
      • Fines from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
      • Up to 10 years of imprisonment and $1 million in fines for export control violations


International Air Transport Association (IATA)
Dangerous Goods Documentation

Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
Title 49, Subtitle B, Chapter 1, Subchapter A (Regulations pertaining to transportation of hazardous materials)

U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security
Export Administration Regulation downloadable files

U.S. Census Bureau

Shipping questions?

General questions

Office of Research Assurances


Questions related to classification or identification of a biological agent

WSU biosafety officer