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Spring is Coming, And It's Toxic

Posted on 3/4/2019 by Kim E. Folger

It’s that time of year again. The days are getting longer and warmer, which recharges our batteries and makes everything want to come out of hibernation. Once dormant plants and trees are budding and growing. Tulips, daffodils, and other flowers are sprouting and blooming. Animals, insects, and even people are waking from their winter slumbers and emerging from their dens. And, as beautiful as spring looks and feels, it’s toxic.
That’s right, toxic. It’s not just allergies and hay fever you have to worry about. People and pets can be exposed to poisons in the form of plants, berries, and mushrooms. You also need to keep an eye out for poisonous animals, such as spiders and snakes. And then there are the toxic chemicals found in fertilizers, insecticides, and pesticides.

Shipping and Transporting Toxics/Poisons (49 CFR Hazmat Regulations)

Toxic, poison, and poisonous are three words the DOT uses interchangeably. According to the DOT’s definition, poisons are liquids and solids that are either known to be so toxic to humans that they pose a hazard to health during transportation, or that are presumed to be toxic to humans based on animal testing data. There are three separate test criteria used to determine whether or not a substance meets the DOT’s definition of a Division 6.1 poisonous material:
  1. Oral toxicity
  2. Dermal toxicity
  3. Inhalation toxicity
The severity of the poison’s hazard is defined by a packing group, which specifies how strong the packaging needs to be to ship it. The lower the packing group number, the more severe a hazard is. Toxic substances may fall under one of three packing groups based on lethal dose (LD50) or lethal concentration (LC50) and method of exposure.

If you don't already know, LD50 and LC50 indicate the amount of substance that killed 50% of the test population. Basically, a low LD50 or LC50 value means that a very small amount of that substance is deadly.
Packing Group (PG)

Oral Toxicity - LD50  (mg/kg)

Dermal Toxicity - LD50 (mg/kg) Inhalation Toxicity by Dusts and Mists - LC50 (mg/L)
I < 5.0 < 50 < 0.2
II > 5.0 and < 50 > 50 and < 200 > 0.2 and < 2.0
III > 50 and < 300 > 200 and < 1,000 > 2.0 and < 4.0

The DOT also recognizes gases that are poisonous by inhalation. Division 2.3 materials are not separated by packing groups like their liquid and solid counterparts. Instead, compressed toxic gases are assigned to one of four hazard zones, indicated by a letter, using the criteria below.
Hazard Zone Inhalation Toxicity
A LC50 < 200 ppm
B LC50 > 200 ppm and < 1,000 ppm
C LC50 > 1,000 ppm and < 3,000 ppm
D LC50 > 3,000 ppm and < 5,000 ppm

OSHA and the GHS Toxics

Health hazards that are classified as OSHA toxic substances include chemicals that pose one of the following hazardous effects: acute toxicity; germ cell mutagenicity; carcinogenicity; reproductive toxicity; or specific target organ toxicity.  

Acutely toxic substances are basically what most people would consider “poisonous.” Acute toxicity refers to chemicals that cause adverse effects after a single dose, after multiple doses within a 24-hour period, or after an inhalation exposure of four hours or less. OSHA assigns materials to one of four acute toxicity categories based on LD50/LC50 values.
Acute Toxicity Cat. 1 Cat. 2 Cat. 3 Cat. 4
Oral (mg/kg) < 5 > 5  and < 50 > 50 and < 300 > 300 and < 2,000
Dermal (mg/kg) < 50 > 50 and < 200 200 and < 1,000 > 1,000 and < 2,000
Gases (ppm)  < 100 > 100 and  < 500 > 500 and < 2,500 > 2,500 and < 20,000
Vapors (mg/L) < 0.5 > 0.5 and < 2 > 2.0 and < 10 > 10 and < 20
Dusts & Mists (mg/L) < 0.05 > 0.05 and < 0.5 > 0.5 and < 1 > 1 and < 5

The skull and crossbones are highly recognized and associated with the words “toxic” and “poison,” which is why it’s found in the pictogram for acutely toxic substances per the Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS).

But, did you know the GHS HazCom Standard also includes other symbols that represent toxics? These include the health hazard pictogram and the exclamation mark.
OSHA GHS Toxic Labels
You can learn more about these symbols, as well as the DOT and OSHA specific requirements for what to do in an emergency, how to store, handle, transport, and use poisonous materials safely by springing into action and taking Lion’s HazCom: Poisons/Toxic Substances Online Course.

General Safety For Poison and Toxic Substances 

No matter whose definition you’re using, or whether you call them toxins or poisons, the most important thing to remember is that they are hazardous to your health! If necessary, contact poison control, seek medical attention, and call 911 or emergency medical services. Stay safe at work this spring (and throughout the year) by following the OSHA and DOT rules you can learn in any one of Lion’s online OSHA/HazCom training courses. To learn more, click here.  

Tags: DOT, hazard communication, hazmat shipping, Poison, Toxic

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