Federal Requirements Governing The Transportation Of Paraformaldehyde

Performance Review, Winter 1997

Chris Rowe

Contamination Control Technologies, Inc.

Imagine this scenario, you are on your way to a job that requires that you decontaminate two biological safety cabinets prior to certification. You have in the back of your vehicle a sealed plastic bag that contains approximately 50 grams of paraformaldehyde. As you are driving, you get into an accident and, although you are not seriously injured, the police want you to go to the hospital to be "checked out for your own good." In your absence one of the public safety workers notices a bag of what appears to be a dry chemical that has broken open and spilled. The bag has been clearly marked as containing paraformaldehyde. The public safety worker would then go to the hazardous material table in DOT document 49 CFR and find that the chemical is a division 4.1 hazardous material flammable solid. Acting according to the information in 49 CFR, a HAZMAT team would be called in to assist in the clean up of the chemical. While sitting in the hospital emergency room waiting area, the chief of the HAZMAT crew shows up and places you under arrest. He informs you that your non-compliance with DOT regulations concerning transportation of hazardous material can potentially result in civil fines of as much as $27,500, criminal fines of as much as $500,000, and possibly five years in jail. Suddenly, you find yourself in a surrealistic legal journey you would have had no idea was even a remote possibility.

As certification professionals, it is often necessary to use various quantities of paraformaldehyde for decontamination purposes. Quantities used can vary from a few grams for a two foot biological safety cabinet to kilos for use in an area decontamination. Typically, the paraformaldehyde is either carried in a bulk container to the work site and weighed out as necessary, or it is weighed out into individual use portions at your place of business and transported to the work site. Assuming public roadways are used, whenever we transport paraformaldehyde we are subject to all DOT regulations. Paraformaldehyde is designated by the United States Department of Transportation (document 49 CFR 10/1/96 edition) as a hazardous material, division 4.1 flammable solid.

In an attempt to keep things simple, in this article I will discuss compliance of regulations that are pertinent to the type of transportation required in the certification business. There are a myriad of regulations governing the transportation of hazardous materials. Fortunately, when dealing with smaller quantities as we do, the Department of Transportation has set aside some exemptions that can assist in making compliance with these regulations reasonably simple. The two types of exemptions that I will address are exemptions for "limited quantities" and exemptions for "small quantities."

I will begin with the "limited quantities" exemption. Limited quantities are defined in 49 CFR as: "not exceed(ing) 30 kg (66 pounds)." All regulations discussed pertain to ground transport only. If it is necessary to transport the chemical via aircraft, special rules apply. Compliance with Department of Transportation regulations can be divided into three subjects: packaging, documentation, and training.


Paraformaldehyde, as any hazardous material designated as a division 4.1 flammable solid, requires compliance under Packing Group III. "For flammable solids in packing group III, inner package not over 5.0 kg (11 pounds) net capacity each, packed in strong outer packaging." While this description is somewhat ambiguous, the intent is simple. The inner package is typically a plastic container that is capable of being secured to prevent any leakage. The outer packaging is typically a sturdy cardboard container that is taped shut. Because of the limited quantities exemption, labeling and placarding are not necessary. It is required that your company name and address be clearly displayed on the outer packaging, as well as the proper shipping name and 49 CFR Identification number. In the case of paraformaldehyde, this designation would be:

Paraformaldehyde, UN2213.


Along with a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), it is required that the driver of the vehicle be in possession of shipping papers that include the following information:

  1. Name of company shipping the hazardous material.
  2. Name of the carrier.
  3. 24 hour emergency response telephone number.
  4. Total weight of the hazardous material being shipped.
  5. Number of packages being shipped.
  6. Either the words "Limited Quantity" or the abbreviation "Ltd. Qty." (this states that you are invoking the limited quantity exemption).
  7. Description of the hazardous material being shipped.

This description must have the following information in the following order:

  1. the hazardous material description and proper shipping names.
  2. the hazard class or division numbers.
  3. the 49 CFR Identification numbers.
  4. followed by the packaging group number.

The designation as described above for paraformaldehyde is:

Paraformaldehyde, 4.1, UN2213, III, Ltd. Qty.

If you do not anticipate shipping any hazardous material other than paraformaldehyde, I suggest that you print this designation directly onto the shipping papers. I have included a copy of a template that can be used for this purpose. Feel free to copy this and personalize it for your own use. If you use the basic information as is presented in this document, you will be in compliance with DOT regulations, limited quantity exemption.

If a job requires more than one biological safety cabinet decontamination, it is acceptable to package multiple inner packages into a single outer package, being sure to report the combined weight of the multiple packages on the shipper.

Earlier in this article I mentioned the possibility of fines being levied for non-compliance. Examples of some of the fines that can be assessed for some of the frequently cited shipping paper violations are:

  • Failure to execute a shipping paper for a shipment of hazardous materials........$3,000 to $6,000
  • Failure to include a proper shipping name in the shipping description or using an incorrect shipping name.........$800 to $1,600
  • Failure to include the total quantity of hazardous material covered by a shipping description...........................................$400
  • Failure to include an emergency response telephone number on a shipping paper..............$2,600
  • And so on, and so on, and so on, ad infinitum.


Training requirements are spelled out in Chapter 1 Subpart H (pages 327 - 329) of 49 CFR. The scope of the required training program is:

"Training as used in this subpart means a systematic program that ensures a HAZMAT employee has familiarity with the general provisions of this subchapter, is able to recognize and identify hazardous materials, has knowledge of specific requirements of this subchapter applicable to functions performed by the employee, and has knowledge of emergency response information, self-protection measures and accident prevention methods and procedures."

In other words, any employee that will be driving the vehicle that is transporting paraformaldehyde must attend an approved HAZMAT course. This training may be provided by the HAZMAT employer or by other public or private sources.

Next, I will discuss the "small quantities" exemption (exemption number 173.4). With the small quantities exemptions, requirements get a great deal more simple.


Packaging requirements are basically the same as with the "limited quantities" exemption. One difference is that the packaging requirements are much more specific. These requirements are listed on pages 358 and 359 of 49 CFR. I suggest that you research all of the requirements. For the sake of time and space, I will list some of the more pertinent requirements:

  1. The maximum quantity of material per inner receptacle is limited to thirty (30) grams for authorized solids.
  2. Each inner receptacle is constructed of plastic having a minimum thickness of no less than 0.2 mm, or earthenware, glass, or metal.
  3. Each inner receptacle with a removable closure has its closure held securely in place with wire, tape, or other positive means.
  4. The inside packaging is securely packaged in a strong outside packaging.
  5. The gross mass of the completed package does not exceed 29 kg (64 pounds).
  6. The package is not opened or otherwise altered until it is no longer in commerce.

There is also a rather lengthy section on outer package drop test requirements. I suggest you simply purchase some containers from a vendor of hazardous material shipping products.


As with the limited quantities exemption, labeling and placarding are not necessary. It is required that you have your company name and address clearly displayed on the outer packaging as well as the proper shipping name and 49 CFR identification number. In the case of paraformaldehyde, this designation would be:

Paraformaldehyde, UN2213 Small Quantity.

In addition, the requirements listed on pages 358 and 359 of 49 CFR state that in order to qualify for the "small quantities" exemption you MUST certify conformance with this section by marking the outside of the package with the statement: "This package conforms to conditions and limitations specified in 49 CFR 173.4".


If transporting paraformaldehyde under the "small quantities" exemption, there are no personnel training requirements.


As long as the paraformaldehyde is packaged in accordance with criteria set in exemption number 173.4 and, very importantly, that the outside of the package is clearly marked as described above, you will be in compliance with hazardous material transportation regulations. As you can see by utilizing the small quantities exemption, there is no additional packaging necessary, there are no additional shipping papers required, and there are no requirements for HAZMAT training for the employee. By making sure that none of the inner packages exceed 30 grams in weight and that the total weight of the paraformaldehyde does not exceed 64 pounds, you will be able to claim the small quantity exemption, be in compliance with Department of Transportation regulations, and avoid the possibility of civil and criminal prosecution. It almost seems as if this exemption were written with our industry in mind. If smaller quantities of paraformaldehyde are what you require then the small quantities exemption is obviously the best direction for you. If you need to transport larger quantities, the "limited quantities" exemption is the way that you need to go.

Compliance with the Department of Transportation requirements for shipping hazardous materials is not as complicated as some would think. Quite frankly, I found the hardest part to be translating all of the various regulations. I am sure that this is "old news" to many of the readers. Hopefully this article will assist some of you to more define your hazardous material transportation procedures.

(I would like to thank Mr. Jay Johnson of Partners in Compliance Inc. of Morrisville, NC for all of his assistance in the research for this article.)