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Making Sense of Hazmat Commodities

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Shipping hazmat commodities comes with concern. Make sense of it all and see how a strong logistics partner can help. Get a quote and book your shipment now!
Published: September 24, 2020
Last Modified: August 28, 2023
Author: Ask Truckload

If you’re about to ship HAZMAT commodities and have never done it before, it’s time to pump the brakes. It’s not simply enough to say you need to know more about these types of goods — it can be a matter of serious injury or even death if HAZMAT items are not shipped correctly. This means you need to do some research on the kinds of products you’re planning on having freight shipped.

Yet, we’re not talking about brain surgery when trying to make sense of HAZMAT commodities. You just need to understand the different classifications of the items you’re having shipped fall into and what is able to be shipped with what. Certain HAZMAT items can’t be placed together because of undesirable reactions. 

Identifying Hazmat Commodities

Identifying Hazmat Commodities

In regard to this article, hazmat in this case is also referred to as dangerous goods. These are substances or materials that can threaten the environment or the health of humans and other living organisms. When the goods are not en route to a destination, they are simply known as hazardous materials.

In the U.S., while these dangerous goods are being transported, there are diamond-shaped markings on either the item itself or the container it’s being shipped in that have markings which indicate what class the commodity is in (classes are explained in further detail below). For example, there are symbols within the diamond that denote what kind of commodity, such as the classic skull and crossbones to signify that the substance is poisonous. Even the color of the diamond itself has significance — a diamond with a red outline denotes the substance is flammable while an orange outside marks explosives.

Class 1 Hazardous Commodities: Explosives

Class 1 Hazardous Commodities Explosives

This kind of commodity comprises a very small amount of total trucking shipments but — due to their very nature — have to be handled with the utmost care. These are items that are designed to detonate either through a device or a chemical reaction and explode

To give examples of what is included in this category of HAZMAT, it’s important to look at the six separate divisions and what they particularly cover. This class has the most divisions and you’ll soon see why.

Division 1.1: Mass Explosion Hazard

These are items such as dynamite, TNT, ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANFO), torpedoes, black powder, nitroglycerine and mercury fulminate.

Division 1.2: Blast and Projection Risk

This can be certain types of fireworks, hand grenades, some kinds of ammunition and detonation fuses. These items have a risk of being a projection hazard but will not pose a mass explosion risk.

Division 1.3 — Major Fire Risk

These commodities can pose a fire hazard and even have a small blast or projection hazard but are not risks for a mass explosion. Commercial fireworks, sodium picramate, rocket propellant and motors, and other liquid or solid propellants are all examples of goods posing a minor blast risk.

Division 1.4 — Minor Blast Risk

Small arms ammunition, consumer fireworks, empty primed grenades, toy caps, model rocket motors and railway fog signals are all under this division. These items are not at risk for a major explosion.

Division 1.5 — Blasting Agents

This type of explosive is the kind that could cause a mass explosion hazard but it is also very insensitive. Some type B blasting agents, all type E water emulsion blasting agents and explosive substances that are considered very insensitive.

Division 1.6 — Extremely Insensitive Articles

Hey, didn’t we just cover this in the previous paragraph? The subtle difference here is these are anything that don’t fall under division 1.5 and also don’t pose a mass explosive hazard.

As a final note in this class, explosives are placed into one of 13 compatibility groups within their own division. This is often expressed as a group table that easily shows a shipper which types of explosives can be transported with others and, conversely, which ones should never be grouped into the same load. 

Did you know we’re here to match you with the best hazmat carriers on the road today? While we can’t help with 1.1, 1.2 and 1.3, we’re on board to ship other DOT hazmat classes.

Class 2 Hazardous Commodities: Gases

All classes of hazardous materials have unique risks. Gases are no exception and Class 2 covers flammable, non-flammable and toxic gases. Any gases that are stored for transport and are compressed are included on this list. A majority of the liquefied or compressed gases freight shipped are either butane or propane.

Division 2.1 — Flammable, Non-Toxic Gas

Without going into the scientific limits of what constitutes a flammable gas, this division refers to gases that are not found or thought to be poisonous to humans but are able to ignite and become flammable. While there is a long list of items that classify in this division, some of the more common ones are hydrogen, propane and acetylene.

Division 2.2 — Non-Flammable, Non-Toxic Gas

Helium and liquid oxygen highlight this list. These gases are not considered to be toxic nor extremely flammable but still need proper care taken during their handling and shipping. Any pressurized, cryogenic, liquified asphyxiant or oxidizing gas. Also any gas that doesn’t fall into divisions 2.1 or 2.3 are placed here. 

Division 2.3 — Toxic Gas

Also called poisonous gas, this classification refers to gases that are known or thought to be toxic to humans. Of the three divisions of gases, 2.3 types are required by law to be transported by hazmat carriers certified by the DOT. 

Class 3 Hazardous Commodities: Flammable Liquids 

This is a category of HAZMAT where there are no separate divisions, meaning any fluid classified as a flammable liquid should be handled the same way. When a flammable liquid is being transported, it’s important to know that its flash point — which is the temperature where vapor is in the air at a sufficient enough amount to ignite — is a maximum of 140 degrees fahrenheit (60 degrees celsius). Some flammable liquids actually have lower flash points, which can be as low as 95 degrees fahrenheit (35 degrees celsius).

Did you know isopropyl alcohol is a Class 3 hazmat commodity? Learn how to ship isopropyl alcohol.

While there are not marked divisions for flammable liquids, there are still placards that are used to denote certain types. Those are:

  • A general placard for all flammable liquids
  • Combustible, any liquid that has a flashpoint above 141 degrees but below 200 degrees.
  • Gasoline, in non-bulk quantities 
  • Fuel Oil, in non-bulk quantities 

Class 4 Hazardous Commodities: Other Flammable Substances

Not all flammable goods are of the liquid variety. There are plenty of materials when in their solid state that can be ignited and become combustible in their normal state.

Division 4.1 — Flammable Solid

Flammable solids fall into one of four categories:

  1. Desensitized Explosives: These items are actually dampened to suppress their explosive capabilities. 
  2. Self-Reactive Materials: This is an unstable material that can basically catch on fire on its own, even without the presence of air.
  3. Generic Types: These are potential flammable solids that don’t fit squarely into another division. 
  4. Readily Combustible Solids: These are flammable products through friction. An easy example would be matches.

Division 4.2 — Spontaneously Combustible

Spontaneously combustible materials fall into one of two categories within this division:

  1. Pyrophoric Material: This kind of item can be quite dangerous, igniting within 5 minutes of coming into contact with air. It can come in either solid or liquid form, although for the purposes of this section, it refers to solids.
  2. Self-Heating Material: This is similar to pyrophoric, except instead of catching on fire, the material will just heat up. This is still dangerous as the temperatures could be enough to burn those who are handling the products.

Division 4.3 — Dangerous When Wet

These types of flammable solids can spontaneously ignite or emit a gas that is either toxic or flammable when they come into contact with water. The best real-world example of this occurring is with pure alkali metals

Class 5 Hazardous Commodities: Oxidizing Substances & Organic Peroxides

This class of hazardous commodity is known as an oxidizer, which gives off oxygen. This oxidation is potentially dangerous because it can lead to the combustion of materials around it.  

Division 5.1 — Oxidizing substances

For the reason mentioned in the previous paragraph, this is a dangerous substance. There are two ways that the UN Manual of Tests and Criteria measure if a solid material is classified as in this division:

  1. The material in question shouldn’t burn for longer than a 3:7 mixture of potassium bromate and cellulose.
  2. Also, if the item spontaneously combusts or ignites in less time than a 1:1 mix of nitric acid and cellulose.

Division 5.2 — Organic peroxides

Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common types of organic peroxides. This cannot be items are are a risk to explode, or else they’d be required to be classified as Class 1 HAZMAT. 

Class 6 Hazardous Commodities: Toxic & Infectious Substances 

This class of materials contains any substance (excluding gases) that are known to be so dangerous to humans that it presents significant risk to health during freight shipping.

Division 6.1 — Toxic Substances

These poisonous materials are thought to be hazardous to humans based on the effect of testing on laboratory animals. These three different types of toxicity are based on Lethal Dose 50:

  1. Oral Toxicity: If more than 300mg per kilogram is ingested orally of a liquid or solid, it can prove fatal to humans. 
  2. Dermal Toxicity: This is a substance that can be lethal if it is absorbed into your skin at a ratio of 1 gram per kilogram.
  3. Inhalation Toxicity: This type of toxicity refers to a mist or dust can be fatal at 4 mg per liter; or it refers to a material that has a saturated vapor content of 5000 ml per one cubic meter.

One of the most popular toxic substances to be shipped is molten phenol, a raw ingredient in the creation of wood and plastic production. Toluene diisocyanate is another common commodity needed to be shipped; it is used in the formation of polyurethane foam, which is an important component in homes, beds, cars and furniture.  

Division 6.2 — Infectious Substances

Otherwise known as biohazards, infectious materials are known to be substances that threaten the health or lives of any living organism, especially humans in this case. This could be a virus, bacteria, toxin or microorganism. While these are not common in regular freight loads, biohazards must be taken very seriously since the result of mishandling them can lead to multiple fatalities.

Class 7 Hazardous Commodities: Radioactive Material

Class 7 Hazardous Commodities Radioactive Material

This might be the shortest section in this article. Basically, any commodity that emits radiation is in this class. There are really two small points to make about radioactive materials:

  1. Almost any radioactive material shipped needs the Radioactive Yellow III label.
  2. For the few items that have a low enough amount of radioactivity, they don’t need to be labeled but must still include the RADIOACTIVE placard.

Class 8 Hazardous Commodities: Corrosives

For these items, there are no separate divisions. The only criteria for HAZMAT to be in this class are a liquid or solid’s ability to cause full thickness destruction of human skin upon contact within a certain amount of time. Also found in this category are any liquids that have an extremely corrosive effect on steel or aluminum.

Sodium hydroxide and sulfuric acid are the two most common commodities shipped that are found within Class 8. Both acids and bases are in the corrosive class and — when shipping incompatible corrosives — care must be taken that they can’t be placed in a position to mix. Mixed corrosives can react extremely violently.

Class 9 Hazardous Commodities: Miscellaneous

Class 9 hazardous commodities are anything that don’t fit in the previous 8 classes. These items can still pose a hazard during freight shipping. This includes goods that could be a marine pollutant, a hazardous substance, waste or material, and something that can become volatile due to elevated temperatures.

This class also includes items that would be an irritant or cause discomfort to a flight crew where they’d be unable to perform their normal duties.  

Recently there has also been a subclass entitled 9A, which applies specifically to lithium batteries being transported. The 9A class doesn’t cover anything else.

Freight Shipping Hazmat Commodities

After reading about all the classifications of hazardous materials, it should be crystal clear how imperative it is to be knowledgeable and properly cautious when freight shipping HAZMAT commodities. So it stands to reason that the third-party logistics (3PL) company that you choose not only feels the same way but takes the necessary steps to help make sure your products are shipped in a manner befitting the hazards they pose.

To this end, there are some things you want to be sure of:

  • Can the company help me complete all the necessary paperwork associated with?
  • Will the company properly mark the vehicle with the appropriate placards to warn others?
  • Do they carry the proper insurance? Can they help me secure the proper insurance?
  • Will they have my delivery there safely and on time?
  • Does this company have certified HAZMAT carriers?
  • How will the freight company keep me in the loop?

There could be more questions than this, but these are some very important queries that you either need the answers to or should try to get the best idea of before entrusting your goods to a 3PL.

Also you should be involved and aware of how your commodities need to be shipped. Because they are HAZMAT, the products might need special accommodations for freight shipping such as the truck set up a certain way to protect against any accidents. 

Also, it’s been mentioned earlier in the article but certain commodities should never be transported together since their interactions can be very dangerous. While it’s important for you to know what your commodities should not be shipped alongside, it’s even more imperative that your 3PL does.

Shipping Hazardous Commodities With R+L Global Logistics

When you’ve made sense of all the various hazmat commodities that can be freight shipped, it’s then the right time to call R+L Global Logistics to let our hazardous materials experts handle your load of fragile freight the correct way. We’re experts when it comes to freight shipping hazardous materials.

R+L Global Logistics’ carriers exceed the standards set forth by the U.S. DOT in relation to HAZMAT regulations, which means you’ll be at less risk and be able to experience an enhanced peace of mind. We have a laser focus on compliance and safety so you’ll never have to worry about a thing.

R+L Global Logistics offers complimentary tracking of your shipment across North America and delivery confirmation when your freight arrives at its destination. With these amenities, you’ll get near certainty of prompt delivery with our 99.5 percent rate of being on time. Plus, if you need your HAZMAT there even sooner, you can inquire about our expedited shipping. This add-on service can lop a day or two off your items’ journey, depending on the length of the route.

So when you’re ready for your HAZMAT commodities to be freight shipped safely and soundly across the country, give R+L Global Logistics a call at 866.353.7178 to talk to a live specialist and get a free truckload freight quote.

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