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Handling and Disposal of Biotoxins

A biotoxin is a poisonous substance that is a specific product of the metabolic activities of a living organism (plant, animal, fungus, bacteria). Unlike most other biohazards, biotoxins do not replicate and, in some senses, are more analogous to chemical toxins. Proper handling and disposal of biotoxins pose special challenges but yet are vital steps toward the protection of laboratory and service personnel.

Solubilization of Biotoxins

Biotoxins are frequently lyophilized or otherwise concentrated into the powdered form as the final preparation stage. Commercial preparations typically are shipped in crimped vials that are topped by a rubber stopper, while the individual laboratory may package and store the powder in vials or microcentrifuge tubes. Solubilizing the powder to formulate a stock solution presents a risk to the researcher because of the possibility of dispersal of the powder into the air. The protocols below are designed to minimize the risk of personnel exposure and environmental contamination.

Biotoxin stock solution preparation in crimped vials:

Biotoxin stock solution preparation in microcentrifuge tubes:

Disposal Procedures for Biotoxins

The method of disposal is dependent on the chemical composition of the biotoxin. Some of the proteinaceous biotoxins can be effectively inactivated by exposure to 10% bleach for at least one hour of contact time or by autoclaving at 121° C and 15 psi, for one hour. Examples of proteinaceous biotoxins that can be disposed of by these methods are Staphylococcus enterotoxin, ricin, and anthrax lethal toxin1. Contact the Biological Safety Section via e-mail or at 333-2755 if you have disposal questions fro other proteinacious biotoxins.

The inactivation of non-proteinaceous biotoxins is less clear. There is conflicting evidence as to which methods are most effective. Examples of non-proteinaceous biotoxins are T-2 toxin, and some venoms and marine toxins. The following disposal instructions have been developed to ensure all the non-proteinaceous biotoxin wastes are disposed in a manner that is consistent and safe for all personnel involved. Questions regarding these procedures should be directed to the Chemical Safety Section, Division of Research Safety at 333-2755 or via e-mail.

Note: These instructions apply only to biotoxins that are not regulated as select agents. If you are working with a biotoxin that is regulated as a select agent, contact the Biological Safety Section via e-mail or 333-2755. To determine if you are working with a biotoxin that is regulated as a select agent, refer to the list at the end of this document.

Solid waste containing non-proteinaceous biotoxins (includes biotoxin contaminated debris)

(Debris includes disposable items such as gloves, labcoats, absorbent paper, plastic pipette tips and empty containers)

Some labs have found it useful to place a bag in a container that has a lid to minimize exposure. The container holding the bag should be clearly marked so that custodial staff does not mistake it for regular trash.

Liquid waste containing non-proteinaceous biotoxins

Biotoxins that are regulated as select agents

A biotoxin is regulated as a select agent only if the aggregate amount of the biotoxin under the control of a principal investigator exceeds the amount listed in parenthesis for each toxin2.

  • Abrin (100mg)
  • Botunlinum Neurotoxins (0.5 mg)
  • Clostridium perfringens epsilon toxin (100 mg)
  • Conotoxins (100 mg)
  • Diacetoxyscirpenol (1000 mg)
  • Ricin (100 mg)
  • Saxitoxin (100 mg)
  • Shiga-like ribosome inactivating proteins (100 mg)
  • Shigatoxin (100 mg)
  • Staphylococcal enterotoxins (5 mg)
  • Tetrodotoxin (100 mg)
  • T-2 toxin (1000 mg)


1 Wannemacher R.W. 1989. Procedures for Inactivation and Safety Containment of Toxins. Proc. Symposium on Agents of Biological Origin, U.S. Army Research, Dev. and Engineering Center, Aberdeen proving Ground, MD. pp. 115-122



For more information, contact the Division of Research Safety, Biological Safety Section (333-2755 or via e-mail) or visit our web site:

Other Biosafety Facts Sheets are available from the Biological Safety Section at our web site:

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