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February & March 2001 Newsletter
press here for back issues

Ocean Shippers, Forwarders and Consolidators:
The new 3-volume 2000 IMDG Code is now available through the usual sources such as CargoPak and Labelmaster. If you already have your copies go to the IMO Website at http://www.imo.org/imo/imdg/intro.htm to download the 1st or 2nd or 3rd errata for important corrections. There have been a number of complaints about the new books breaking apart due to poor binding and IMO will replace the books if you return them to the source of the purchase.

If you are already trying to decipher the new regulations and are somewhat confused, check our training page to go about reserving space in one of our Ocean Training Classes if you are about due for recurrent training. We have expanded our recurrent training classes to 2 full days because of the new format for the IMDG Code.

If you have been fumbling through the regulations in the past or just copied the information somebody gave you over the fax now is a good time to consider formal training. We furnish the full 3-volume set of regulations with both our initial and recurrent training programs.

Complaints about the new IMDG Code:
We can understand why such a large number of editorial corrections resulted in view of the totally new format for the 2000 IMDG Code. However, the poor quality of the books is inexcusable. Our initial order of the 3 volume sets has resulted in books that fall apart the first time you use them due to the poor quality of the binding. A number of our clients have voiced similar comments to us. If you have also received poor quality copies of the IMDG Code contact IMO direct at info@imo.org or the vendor that you purchased the books from.

New Feature at our website:
Although most of our visitors are "cargo-type" people, you probably get inquiries from co-workers and friends and family members about carrying certain dangerous items on passenger flights. At the top of our website pages we have information links to the U.S. FAA and IATA concerning dangerous goods and passengers. So, the next time your friends wonder about what they can safely take with them. have them visit our website so they can reduce travel headaches before they start their journey. Your editor has two sons and three grandsons that play hockey. You better believe I made them read those links to the FAA and especially to IATA's website.

"Hockey players"???? Check it out!

Do you know any airline employees? Passenger service agents, mechanics, stock room clerks, security personnel, and reservation agents should check out those links as well.

Dangerous Goods from a Global Perspective
Are Regulations Truly Harmonized?
HMAC/Pira Global Conference
March 29-30, 2001
Heidelberg Marriott Hotel
Heidelberg, Germany

Last year HMAC and Pira teamed up to conduct a topnotch international conference in Amsterdam. This year the venue switches to beautiful Heidelberg, Germany and the esteemed panel of speakers will deal with the question of harmonization and whether or not it is really working.

Harmonization is supposed to make dangerous goods transportation regulations pretty close to identical between states (countries), and between the different modes (air, sea, highway, and rail). Is it working? Find out at this conference.

Of special interest at this conference: Infectious Substances. Get an understanding of the current issues concerning infectious substances, what new regulations are in the pipeline, special concerns in Europe, and what the World Health Organization is doing to control epidemic diseases.

For additional details use our link to the Hazardous Materials Advisory Council, http://www.hmac.org

We hope to see you at the conference!


Check our training schedules for upcoming training dates.

Now, back to "classifications".

Although we have drifted from our goal from time to time, we have been attempting to help non-technical visitors to understand the classification system and the particular hazards associated with each classification. We have tried to give examples of each of the hazard classes/dangerous goods to help our visitors to grasp the real dangers in a non-technical atmosphere. In our training classes we receive many comments about how we can provide an example of almost anything that can go wrong with transporting dangerous goods. Its not that we are so smart - no - more likely we have witnessed so much we just can't resist climbing up onto our soapbox and start preaching about safety. Learn from others' mistakes! Don't copy them!

Too often we witness ostrich-like reactions to dangerous goods. To us, it seems that when transportation and distribution people don't have an idea about what they are handling, they tend to bury their heads in the sand. "Ignore the problem." "Maybe it will go away." "If I don't think about it maybe nothing will go wrong."

Of course this is always a dangerous reaction that can cause property damage or injury or death further along the transportation chain. Our topic this month is radioactive material.

"RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL - defined as any material that spontaneously emits ionizing radiation and has a specific activity greater than 74 Bq. per gram (0.002 microcuries per gram). Note curies are no longer used to measure activity. The not-so-new International Standard is "BECQUERELS (Bq)".

"Spontaneously emits ionizing radiation" sounds like something out of a science-fiction movie. Zap!

We come across many forms of "radiation" every day. X-rays by the dentist would be one form of that ionizing radiation. Other forms of radiation are microwave, radio and TV, electro-magnetic (ultra-violet, infrared, electricity, and ordinary light). They all share one common bond - wavelength. The narrower wavelengths result in a more penetrating form of radiation creating a more dangerous form of energy.

Radio, TV, infrared, and ordinary light from a light bulb have very long wavelengths and therefore present almost no danger.

Microwave has a much narrower wavelength so that form of energy can produce heat and may cause damage to cell structures. Cell phones use microwave energy and we are sure you have all heard theories about potential changes in brain cells (cancer) due to long-term and constant use of those phones. However, there is no conclusive evidence at this time that cell phones are potential health risk. On the other hand, cook a food item in a microwave oven for too long a period of time and you have an example of cell-structure-change. Bite into the food and its like biting a rock. That's bad for the teeth and worse on the digestive system!

Ultra-violet radiation from the sun has a fairly narrow wavelength and travels over millions of miles through space and if you absorb large amounts of it due to work or play in the sunlight, or in a tanning salon, you can increase your risk of skin cancer. The ozone layer in the earth's upper atmosphere provides us earthlings with some protection from ultra-violet radiation.

Fissile radioactive materials, such as uranium, are used in nuclear power plants and, unfortunately, in nuclear weapons. These products are indeed the most dangerous forms of radioactive material but they also require extraordinary surveillance by government agencies and security personnel, thus ensuring safety.

X rays, gamma rays, radioactive isotopes are used in medicine and industry and usually have very narrow wavelengths and thus present the greater risk to health. These are the radioactive materials we generally see in transportation and are the radioactive materials that we wish to address in this newsletter.

To protect the public and the transportation personnel from radiation risks there are at least four steps that must be used at all times.

Obviously, proper identification of the radioactive source (radionuclides/radioactive isotopes) is the first order of business. Iodine-131 (I-131) and Iridium-190 (Ir-190) would be two examples. Both are used in medical applications. The source is noted in the contents section of the radioactive label and also must be noted on the documentation.

Activity, which really is the quantity of the radioactive material being shipped in a package. Unlike other dangerous goods that are measured in kilos or litres we are concerned with the amount of energy coming from the source. This is measured in becquerels - the older method of measuring quantity was curies. The "activity" portion of the radioactive label must indicate this quantity and it is appropriate to use the international standards such as giga becquerels (GBq) or tera becquerels (TBq) on both the label and the documentation. If this boggles the mind, think of an ordinary light bulb. We measure the amount (quantity or brilliance) of light in "watts", not in kilograms or litres.

The quantity (activity) of radioactive material being shipped will determine the packaging, which is our primary method of providing safety. Knowing the quantity for each radionuclide that we are shipping we can determine if the product is within limits for a Type A package, the normal method of packaging that provides a reasonable amount of protection from radiation and contamination during transport. If we exceed the limits for a Type A package we must use a Type B package which is designed and tested for containing large amounts of radioactive material. Sometimes the amount of energy is so small that no special packaging is required and no radiation protection is needed.

The fourth method of providing safety is to measure the amount of exposure from the radioactive material. When we see Yellow II or Yellow III labels on radioactive packages the labels advise us that radiation is being emitted from the package. We measure that radiation on the surface of the package and at one metre from the package with a Geiger Counter of other electronic measuring device and the reading gives us a Transport Index (T/I). That reading is placed on the Yellow II and Yellow III labels in a box marked Transport Index. From that reading we can determine two very important factors for providing safety to the public and to transportation personnel - distance (from the source) and time (of exposure). The T/I is the actual measurement of the radiation level at one metre from the package. It is measured in "millerems" per hour. The mrem lowers as you increase that distance beyond the one metre. Therefore the amount of exposure per hour decreases as the distance away from the radioactive package increases.


  • Proper identification of the radionuclides is important because different radioactive substances produce different types of energy - with narrow wavelengths producing more penetrating types of that energy and greater potential health risks.
  • The activity (quantity) provides us with information concerning how much radioactive energy is present and from that we can determine the type of packaging to use to safely store and transport the radioactive material.
  • The packaging provides us with a measure of protection from the radiation and prevents contamination to the environment. Of course, accurate marking and labeling are other important features of the packaging. Damaged packages provide no protection from the radiation and may drastically affect the transport index and result in an immediate health risk.
  • The Transport Index provides information concerning the level of radiation (exposure) that can affect the welfare of the traveling public and transportation personnel. We use the T/I to calculate the stowage distance away from humans, animals, and unexposed film and the allowable time of exposure.

Yes, there are many other factors that have to be considered to ensure compliance with the regulations. Dual labeling, security seals, special permits and approvals, etc.

A final note - untrained personnel who damage or puncture packages of radioactive material sometimes put extra labels or tape over the damaged area in order to conceal the damage or because of their misguided strategy that they have corrected the problem. They haven't! But they surely will place other transportation personnel at a severe risk, not to mention how much they have increased the risk of bodily damage to themselves. They may not show symptoms for years to come. Symptoms? Risk? Health? If you haven't already figured it out we are talking about increased risk of cancer due to radiation exposure.

Beware of packages with more than 2 RAM labels or an abundance of tape.
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