Guidance for Radiation Accident Management


Basics of Radiation



Safety Around Radiation Sources

Types of Radiation Exposure

Managing Radiation Emergencies

Managing radiation emergencies

Guidance for Prehospital Emergency Services

Introduction || Guidelines || Hazard Identification || Control Zone || Emergency Medical Management || Responding to a Fire || Responding to a Spill || Responding to a Nuclear Weapons Accident

Hazard Identification

Labels | Placards | Limits | Transport Index | Contamination Identification


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 -- White-I, Yellow-II, or Yellow-III -- 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.

Label Radiation Level Associated With Intact Package Symbol
Radioactive White-I Almost no radiation--0.5 mrem/hr (5 ÁSv/hr) maximum on surface radsign1.gif (7134 bytes)
Radioactive Yellow-II Low radiation levels--50 mrem/hr (0.5 mSv/hr) maximum on surface; 1 mrem/hr (10 ÁSv/hr) maximum at 1 meter radsign2.gif (7153 bytes)
Radioactive Yellow-III Higher radiation levels--200mrem/hr (2 mSv/hr) maximum on surface;a 10 mrem/hr (0.1 mSv/hr) maximum at 1 meter

Also required for fissile class III or large-quantity shipments, regardless of radiation level

radsign3.gif (7192 bytes)

a "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 ÁSv/hr (200 mrem/hr) on the surface.

What do the placards for shipment of radioactive material indicate?

Typical radioactive material warning placard plainradsign.gif (6223 bytes)

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.

2912.gif (909 bytes)

Any four-digit ID number shown on an adjacent orange panel is used for specific identification of the cargo. The panel to the left 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 ERG for response information.

plainradsign.gif (6223 bytes)

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 ÁSv/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?

radsignTI.gif (7616 bytes)

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.

Is contamination possible?

Is Contamination Possible graphic


A Comparison of Transportation Accidents Based on Type of Contaminant

Radioactive Material
Is the material immediately threatening to the lives of rescuers and victims? Possibly Very unlikely
Is respiratory protection (SCBA) recommended for emergency response? Yes * Yes, if fire, fumes, smoke, or chemicals are involved or if environmental conditions could cause material to be airborne.
Is special protective clothing recommended for emergency response? Yes * Protective clothing, turnout gear, or other clothing that covers bare skin can keep contaminants off skin.
Does contamination with material produce visible early skin injury (i.e., redness, blistering, or rash that is not due to heat or flames)? Possibly, if corrosive or toxic. No. If these symptoms occur, look for other causes.
Does exposure cause immediate symptoms such as coughing, choking, burning eyes, vomiting, pain, etc., or unconsciousness? Possibly No. If these symptoms occur, look for other causes.
Are instruments for detection and measurement of hazard readily available? No Yes
Can human exposure be measured at the accident scene? No Yes

* Follow standard protocols. Consult U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook.

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