USA Banner

Official US Government Icon

Official websites use .gov
A .gov website belongs to an official government organization in the United States.

Secure Site Icon

Secure .gov websites use HTTPS
A lock ( ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .gov website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Interpretation Response #14-0140 ([Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] [Dr. Paul Meechan])

Below is the interpretation response detail and a list of regulations sections applicable to this response.

Interpretation Response Details

Response Publish Date:

Company Name: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Individual Name: Dr. Paul Meechan

Location State: GA Country: US

View the Interpretation Document

Response text:

October 15, 2014

Paul J. Meechan, Ph.D., MPH
Director, Environment, Health
 and Safety Compliance Office
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Building 20, Room 2211, M/S F-05
1600 Clifton Road
Atlanta, GA  30329

Reference No. 14-0140

Dear Dr. Meechan:

This is in response to your April 25, 2014 letter requesting clarification of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations applicable to transporting select agents under the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR; 49 CFR Parts 171-180).  Specifically, you ask if “Suspected Category A Infectious Substance” may be used as the proper shipping name to describe all Division 6.2 (infectious) select agents under the HMR.  Ms. Lori Bane, Associate Director for Policy, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Department of Health and Human Services, forwarded your letter to us on July 16, 2014.  We have no past record of receiving your letter.  We apologize for the delay in responding and any inconvenience this may have caused.

You state your agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have issued guidance in the past in support of using “Suspected Category A Infectious Substance” as the technical name as part of the proper shipping description for an infectious substance, even when the name of the agent is known, to encourage the safe transport of these materials through a “lost in the crowd” concept.  However, you state since 2009 DOT and other inspectors have increasingly cited packages described in this manner as failing to use an authorized technical name under the HMR.  You recommend using this technical name as the proper shipping name to reduce the chance of these packages becoming frustrated in transit while still supporting the “lost in the crowd” concept.  

Under § 172.203(k), a Division 6.2 material assigned identification number UN 2814 or UN 2900 that is suspected to contain an unknown Category A infectious substance must have the words “suspected Category A infectious substance” entered in parentheses in place of the “technical name” as part of the proper shipping description.  When the identity of the pathogen contained in an infectious substance is known, the technical name (see § 171.8), which can be a recognized chemical name or microbiological name or generic group, or for proficiency testing a generic microbiological description, of the pathogen must be indicated in parentheses in association with the basic description on a shipping paper as prescribed in § 172.203(k).  

If you wish to transport the select agent materials in the manner you described, you have the following options.  A “person,” as this term is defined in § 171.8, may petition PHMSA to add or amend the HMR to include this wording as a proper shipping name through a rulemaking action in conformance with the procedures prescribed in 49 CFR 106.95 through 106.130.  Proper shipping names are part of a uniform system of internationally accepted words and images designed to provide transportation workers and emergency responders with sufficient information to properly prepare the material for transport and to respond appropriately to contain risks that may be present if the material is released.  

PHMSA designs and revises hazardous material proper shipping names, coded numbers, and images as needed in consultation with the specialized agencies of United Nations (UN) Economic and Social Council and other federal and international agencies, including the CDC and APHIS.  We believe this system of hazard communication supports the CDC/APHIS “lost in the crowd” concept in that it is also designed to attract minimal attention from the general public.  However, if additional changes are needed to ensure the safe transportation of select agent materials, we welcome discussing this matter with you.


T. Glenn Foster
Chief, Regulatory Review and Reinvention Branch
Standards and Rulemaking Division

172.203(k), 171.8,

Regulation Sections

Section Subject
171.8 Definitions and abbreviations
172.203 Additional description requirements