What is a hazardous material or dangerous good?

Identification and classification

Any substance that has been identified by the U.S. Department of Transportation that poses an unreasonable risk to health, safety, or property when transported in commerce is considered a hazardous material or dangerous good.

Unsure if your shipment is hazardous?

If you don’t know whether a package you want to send contains a hazardous material or dangerous good, contact the Office of Research Assurances. Explain what you are shipping. The Office can inform you if your package contains such a substance and advise you on how to proceed.

Regulations apply

Federal regulations govern how thousands of different hazardous materials and dangerous goods may be shipped. Packaging and labeling requirements help ensure safe transport.

Regulations may apply to commercial products, chemical mixtures, items containing or contaminated with hazardous substances, and newly synthesized compounds.


The term “dangerous goods” refers to classes of hazardous materials that are shipped by air. Air cargo is regulated by the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The same items shipped using ground transportation are called “hazardous materials,” simply because they are regulated by a different agency: the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Generally speaking, materials in each of the 9 classes of hazardous materials/dangerous goods have similar properties and shipping requirements.

A complete list of hazardous materials is available in the Code of Federal Regulations (Title 49 CFR Part 172, Subpart B, §172.101). These regulations set forth the criteria for determining the hazard class and proper shipping name for a given material. Regulatory agencies refer to this code when assessing an item’s compliance.

Examples of hazardous materials and dangerous goods

These items include—but are not limited to—the following:

  • Lithium ion batteries (in and out of equipment)
  • Biological samples (patient specimens) collected directly from humans or animals, which may include, but are not limited to, the following:
    • Infectious substances
    • blood and its components
    • tissue and tissue fluid
    • swabs
    • body parts being transported for purposes such as research diagnosis, investigational activities, disease treatment and prevention
  • Dry ice
  • Alcohol
  • Ethanol and ethanol solutions
  • Formaldehyde
  • Formalin
  • Sodium azide
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Some paints
  • Compressed gas cylinders
  • Genetically modified organisms or microorganisms
  • Laboratory chemicals (corrosive, toxic, reactive, or flammable)
  • Maintenance chemicals (stains, cleaners, fuels, and disinfectants)
  • Agricultural chemicals (fertilizer, pesticides)
  • Radioactive materials*
  • Ammunition
  • Methanol
  • Hexane
  • Some minerals and metals

* Contact the Radiation Safety Program before you ship.

Infectious substances

Infectious substances are materials known to be, or are reasonably suspected to contain, an animal or human pathogen. A pathogen is any of the following that cause disease in humans or animals:

  • Viruses
  • Microorganisms (including bacteria, plasmids, or other genetic elements)
  • Proteinaceous infectious particles (prions)
  • Recombinant microorganisms (hybrid or mutant)

Shipping classifications identify two categories of infectious substances:

  • Category A: Exposure to a Category A infectious substance can cause permanent disability or life-threatening/fatal disease in humans or animals.
  • Category B: An infectious substance which does not meet the criteria for inclusion in Category A.