Toxic substances: Classification in accordance with the model regulations of the United Nations for the transport of dangerous goods

Totenkopfsymbol giftige Stoffe

The classification of hazards of toxic substances or mixtures is based on an assessment of their acute toxicity. Dangerous goods with toxic properties are subject to the regulations of Class 2 (Division 2.3 Toxic Gases) or 6 (Division 6.1 Toxic Substances) of the nine dangerous goods classes of the model regulations of the United Nations. Evaluations of human poisoning can give an initial indication for hazard assessment of a substance. Are human data lacking, which is usually the case, the results of animal experiments should be used to determine acute toxicity. The decisive level is the dosage at which 50 % of the laboratory animals die within 14 days after (a) oral ingestion, (b) absorption through the skin (expressed as LD50 value) or (c) after the inhalation of gases, dust or vapours (expressed as LC50 value). These values also determine the allocation to one of the three packaging groups for Class 6:

  • Packaging Group I (very toxic)
  • Packaging Group II (toxic) or
  • Packaging Group III (slightly toxic)

These values are also used to establish conditions for the transport of toxic gases. Dangerous goods of this kind have to be labelled with the skull and crossbones symbol.

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Criteria for packaging

The limit values for classification to the packaging groups comply with the highest three categories of acute toxicity when classifying hazardous substances in accordance with the Globally Harmonised System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) of the United Nations and/or the EU regulation on the classification, labelling and packaging of chemicals (CLP). A special feature of the dangerous goods provisions is the inclusion of the toxicity of inhaled vapours. It is not only the toxicity of the vapour that is considered (LC50 value), as is the case in the European CLP regulation, but also the volatility of the substance (saturated vapour concentration).

Tasks of the BfR

To evaluate toxic substances, the BfR collaborates with other authorities and industrial experts in the classification working group of the Dangerous Goods Advisory Board (AGGB) at the Federal Ministry of Transport, Building and Urban Development. It also advises national and regional authorities and comments on general aspects of the hazard classification of toxic substances in requests to the institute.

Tasks and responsibility of the consignor

The correct allocation of  goods to be conveyed to hazard classes and the allocation to the appropriate packaging group is within the responsibility of the consignor. This also includes the decision as to whether animal testing is required to assess the toxic properties of a substance or mixture in compliance with the legal provisions of the EU or whether other methods of hazard assessment can be used with an acceptable level of scientific accuracy (e.g. conclusions by analogy, substance grouping).

The BfR does not provide the corresponding assessments for manufacturers or forwarders.


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