Understanding Radioactive Materials
Shipping Labels and Placards
Source: Managing Radiation Emergencies: Identification of the Hazard (REAC/TS)
What do the labels for packages of radioactive materials indicate?
- All shipments of radioactive material, with the exception of those containing limited quantities or those of low specific activity (LSA), bear two identifying warning labels affixed to opposite sides of the outer package.
- Three different labels are used on the external surface of packages containing radioactive material.
The U.N. hazard class "7" is on labels of radioactive material.
Package labels specify the radioactive content and the quantity in curies. Yellow-II and Yellow-III also specify the transport index (see below).
Radiation Level Associated With Intact Package
Almost no radiation
Low radiation levels
Higher radiation levels
* "Exclusive use" shipments may be up to 0.01 Sv/hr (1 rem/hr), provided an enclosed vehicle is used. An unenclosed shipment (e.g., on a flatbed truck) may not exceed 2 μSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) on the surface.
Example of hazard label with data included:
Radioactive II: means "low radiation levels"
- > 0.5 - 50 mrem/hr (0.5 mSv/hr) maximum on surface
- with a maximum of 1.0 mrem/hr (0.01 mSV/hr at 1 meter from the surface of the package
- The radioactive material is Cesium 137
- 0.37 GBq (10 mCi)
- 0.8 means at 1 meter from the labeled package the radiation dose rate should be no more than 0.8 mrem/hr (0.008 mSv/hr).
Hazard Index: 7
- 7 is the UN hazard identification number indicating that contents has radioactive material
What do the placards for shipment of radioactive material indicate?
Typical radioactive material warning placard
Standard size is 10 x 10 inches.
The placard shown must be used anytime a vehicle carries one or more packages of a Radioactive Yellow III label or if the vehicle is operating under exclusive use provisions required for certain LSA shipments or packages with higher than normal radiation levels.
Any four-digit ID number shown on an adjacent orange panel is used for specific identification of the cargo. The rectagular panel shown here bears the international identification number (International Series) for radioactive material, LSA, n.o.s. (material containing uniformly distributed radioactive material in low concentrations). This is the same four-digit ID number that must appear with the proper shipping name on the package as well as on the shipping documents. Refer to this number in the Emergency Response Guidebook (2012 Emergency Response Guidebook: A Guidebook for First Responders During the Initial Phase of a Dangerous Goods/Hazardous Materials Incident, Department of Transportation, 2012, see especially pages 260-270 for radiation issues) for response information.
The number "7" at the bottom of the placard is the U.N. hazard class description for radioactive materials.
Most shipments of radioactive material are accompanied by documents, such as shipping papers or bills of lading, which are of great value in assessing potential hazards in transportation accidents. These papers will have a 24-hour contact number for information about the material and potential health hazards.
Limits for non-exclusive use vehicle
- 2 mSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) at surface of package
- Individual packages cannot exceed 0.1 mSv/hr (10 mrem/hr) at 1 meter
Limits for exclusive use vehicle
- 20 μSv/hr (2 mrem/hr) in cab
- 2 mSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) on surface of vehicle
- 0.1 mSv/hr (10 mrem/hr) maximum at 2 meters
What is the transport index (TI)?
The number given indicates the maximum radiation level (in mrem/hr) at a distance of one meter from the external surface of a package or container. (Readings in mSv/hr are multiplied by 100 to get mrem/hr.) For example, a TI of 3 (as shown above) would indicate that, at one meter from the labeled package, the radiation intensity that can be measured is no more than 3 mrem/hr (.03 mSv/hr).
If the radiation level at one meter from a package is found to be higher than the specified value, a radiation authority should be consulted. The package contents might have shifted, shielding might have been breached, or an error might have occurred in packaging or labeling.