I’m not a practicing, in-the-lab chemist, but I do have a university degree in Chemistry. More importantly, I’m a Chemistry fan. I like it. I know that water is a chemical, that almost all pesticides are “organic”, and that herbal remedies are complex mixtures of chemicals. And, when I worked at a pharmaceutical firm and at a chemical company, I would focus on chemicals and simple mixtures or solutions of chemicals.

But more and more in my new business, as I try to make a living from classifying, training, and consulting, I’m finding Dangerous Goods that aren’t “just” chemicals everywhere. Oh sure, the plastic that shapes a battery is a polymerized chemical, and the reaction inside that battery that generates the electric current is a chemical reaction, but a battery is a ‘thing’, it’s an article. And batteries are everywhere. All kinds of batteries, in all sizes and shapes and weights. It’s not just batteries, either. There are self-inflating life rafts and vests on most airplanes which are dangerous goods. Try to buy a car these days without DG seat-belt pretensioners or DG air bag inflators. And of course, auto parts stores and car dealerships sell the pretensioners and inflators as replacements. And, yes, fuel cells get their power from internal chemical reactions, but they too, are articles. Add in all the ‘equipment’ that batteries and fuel cells power, from technology like cell phones and laptops, to toys and watches, to vehicles, to meters and other measuring devices, even to ‘temp-tells’ that record the heat or cold inside shipments of biologicals and medicines, and we find that DG articles are everywhere!

As a classifier and a trainer, too, I sometimes get to combine these functions, and deliver a training course on classification. A good classification course can help people better understand how to use the equations that predict the toxicity of mixtures, or how to grasp the difference between flash point and sustaining combustibility. That good course can explain why the residue of some DG’s is in some ways more dangerous than full containers of those DG’s, or it can teach which chemical structures are likely to be corrosive. So, of course, I can zip through Classes 1 to 9, including all their divisions, and give you the chemistry reasons (or physics reasons or biology reasons) why that class/division is unique from all the others. And it used to be that chemistry and physics and biology was enough.

But what hazard class/division is a dry battery? Hmm? Oh, not enough info? Let’s say a dry battery, fully charged, not in equipment, with unprotected terminals. Oh, that’s too easy, it is FORBIDDEN. Okay, so we protect the terminals? Again, easy, it’s now non-regulated, not subject to the regulations, not a DG, and therefore it has no class (nor division). Now where does that fit into our chemistry-based, nine-class classification scheme? How does one fit dry batteries into a ‘traditional’ classification course? Where do the Class 1 seat-belt pretensioners fit into the traditional scheme, and how do fuel cells (2.1 or 3 or 4.3 or 8) fit? What about all the other types of batteries (8 or 9 or 4.3), and how should I account for the need to assess all vehicles, all equipment, and every apparatus against hazard definitions? Is Chemistry sufficient? Should I rearrange my traditional classification course? If I do rearrange it, how do I make articles fit into the old 9-class structure? I may not know all the answers to all these questions, but I do know that classification of potential Dangerous Goods continues to change, and continues to become much more complicated.

Yeah, I’m a Chemist, but maybe, if I don’t want to become a DG dinosaur, I need to become an Article-ist, too.

Written 8/12/2010 for HCB Magazine