The Advanced Photon Source
a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science User Facility

Regulated Soil

What to do if you want to analyze regulated foreign or domestic soil at the APS

Soil from foreign sources and certain locations in the United States are regulated in their movement into and about the United States.  A permit from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is required to receive these soils unless they are sterilized.  More complete information about the regulation of soil can be found on the USDA Soil Permit web page. More general information is available on the USDA APHIS website.  Please contact Liz Schmidt well in advance of your experiment start date to arrange for use of regulated soil samples at the APS.

A few important concepts from the USDA Circular Q-330.300-2, Soil (01/2010) are:

  1. Why is soil regulated?
    Soil can contain numerous diseases and pests such as animal and plant viruses, bacteria, fungi, nematodes, noxious weeds, and the life stages of destructive insects.  Additionally, adequate screening of soil for the spectrum of organisms which might be harmful may not be possible.  Therefore, soil from all foreign countries, US Territories, and some portions of certain US states can move from their location of origin only if specific conditions and safeguards prescribed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) are met.  7 CFR 330.300 and the Plant Protection Act of 2000 list the federal regulations for these conditions and safeguards.  APHIS regulations protect U.S. agriculture from the introduction of destructive plant and animal diseases and pests.
  2. What is soil?
    Soil is the loose surface material of the earth in which plants grow in most cases consisting of disintegrated rock with a mixture of organic material.  This mixture can support biological activity and can therefore carry and introduce harmful pests or diseases.  Examples of soil include topsoil, forest litter, wood or plant compost, humus, and earthworm castings.
  3. What is not soil?
    Materials free of organic matter including pure sand, clay, talc, rocks, volcanic pumice, chalk, salt, diatomaceous earth, iron ore, and gravel.  These materials must be mined or collected to ensure they are free of organic material such as roots, grasses, or leaf litter.

    Fertilizers that contain minerals, bone meal, and crushed grain are not soil.  However, grains in these types of mixtures may be regulated if they lack processing that prevents sprouting.  See the following for information concerning imported grains:  corn relatives (CFR 319.24 & 41), rice relatives (CFR 319.55), and wheat relatives (CFR 319.59).

    What has or may have organic matter in it and may be considered soil, but the PPQ has determined is exempt from USDA soil regulations?

    The following items are exempt, per the PPQ:

    • Peat, cosmetic mud, and other mud products from fresh water or the earth's upper surface if processed to a uniform consistency and free of plant parts or seeds.
    • Volcanic rock, pumice, geological samples, drilling cores, or mud if it is mined and the end product is free of organic material.
    • Any sediment, mud, or rock from the saltwater oceans of the earth.

    NOTE: All shipments of regulated soil may be inspected at a U.S. port of entry to identify the material and verify it is free of pests and prohibited contaminants.  A shipment may be refused entry or require treatment based upon inspection findings.

  4. What U.S. soils are regulated?
    In general, movement of soils from the southeast United States are regulated by the USDA.  Soil from some other US locations is also regulated.  See the map provided by APHIS for locations of regulated domestic soil (US Soil Map).  For further information regarding other locations that may be regulated please consult the APHIS website listed above.
Does the APS have a permit to receive regulated foreign and domestic soil samples?
Yes, the APS has a USDA permit to receive and manage regulated soil samples.
What if I need help deciding if my samples are regulated soil?
If you are having difficulty deciding if your samples are "soil" or if they are regulated, please contact Liz Schmidt (
What do I have to do to ship a regulated soil sample to the APS?

Contact the APS Soil Custodian to arrange for the shipment to the APS.  The following criteria must be met for soil sample shipments subject to USDA soil permit regulations:

  • All shipments of regulated soil must be less than three (3) pounds in total weight.
  • The soil must be double bagged and packaged in sturdy, leak-proof containers.
  • The shipment must include a current copy of the APS soil permit.  Please contact Liz Schmidt ( for a copy of the permit.
  • Packages of regulated soil must be identified as such by using a USDA PPQ Form 550 label that is barcoded and numbered.  Labels can be obtained by contacting Liz Schmidt. The USDA PPQ Form 550 label is NOT a shipping label.  The package must be shipped by bonded carrier (such as FedEx) from the port of arrival to Liz Schmidt at Argonne National Laboratory.  NOTE: Please contact the APS far enough in advance to receive the required USDA PPQ Form 550 label. The USDA requires an original of the label be affixed to the exterior of the package.
What will happen to my soil sample when it arrives at the APS?

All regulated soil samples will be stored in a locked cabinet in Room 437 C002 until needed at the beamline.  All samples are entered into a logbook with the following information:

  • Date of sample arrival at the APS
  • Beamline where sample will be used
  • Weight of the sample
  • General composition of the sample
  • Origin of each incoming soil sample
  • User responsible for the sample
  • Date and location of sample transfer for analysis
  • Final disposition of the sample after the experiment.

Contact Liz Schmidt or Matt Spilker to have your sample(s) delivered to the beamline and for training on how the sample must be handled while at the APS.

When the soil sample is not being analyzed it must be secured (when unattended) at the beamline and the area posted for regulated soil samples.  Secured is defined as a locked location (i.e. a lockable drawer or cabinet).  Please contact the APS Soil Custodian (Liz Schmidt) with any questions regarding securing of samples.

How do I arrange for the return of soil samples to my home institution after the experiment?
Regulated soil samples may only be received by an institution that has a USDA permit to receive regulated soil.  In order to ship a regulated soil sample from the APS, the user must present a copy of the receiving institution's soil permit for inclusion in the outgoing shipment.  The APS will also have to obtain written permission from an appropriate USDA PPQ Office to send the shipment.
How can I treat my sample so it can ship as unregulated soil?
In order to convert a soil sample from regulated to unregulated it must be heat treated according to USDA guidelines.  Contact Liz Schmidt or Matt Spilker for heat treating temperatures and times accepted by the USDA.
Can I dispose of my soil samples when the experiment is finished?
Instead of shipping a sample from the APS to the user's home institution after completion of the experiment, it may be disposed of at the APS by heating treating the soil sample according to USDA guidelines.  Arrangements for disposal must be made with Liz Schmidt or Matt Spilker prior to the user's departure from the APS.
How do I treat laboratory equipment that comes in contact with regulated soil samples?

Any piece of laboratory equipment that comes in contact with an untreated (i.e. unsterilized) regulated soil sample must be washed with a 70% alcohol solution.  This may be done in the LOM laboratory where sample preparation is being conducted.

Please contact the APS User Safety Program if you have any questions or cannot access the internal links.

Updated: February 22, 2024