Hazardous Material Incidents Guide
From toxic waste and industrial chemicals to household air fresheners and detergents, hazardous materials happen to be part of our daily lives. Affecting rural, suburban, and urban areas, hazardous materials incidents range from chemical spills to contamination of groundwater.
If misused or released, chemical and hazardous substances can pose a danger to you or the environment. Dangerous materials might include substances transported on railways, roadways, waterways, and pipeline.
Note that an incident that involves dangerous substances or chemicals can happen anywhere in the community through an intentional action like an act of terrorism or an accident.
Most hazardous materials don’t have any scent, and can only be noticed after physical clues such as nausea or watering eyes occur. Some dangerous materials can also lead to serious injuries, long-lasting health problems, death, or even damage to property and buildings.
Some can have an immediate effect (a few seconds or minutes) while others will take a while to have an effect (2-48 hours).
To handle hazardous incidents, Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) have been established in many communities. The LEPCs identify hazardous materials and keep the community informed whenever there are potential risks.
Companies with hazardous chemicals are required to adhere to the reporting requirements set by the LEPC and/or the local government. Public participation is encouraged in LEPCs.
You can contact the local emergency management office so as to find out if there is an LEPC in your community and how you can participate.
How to protect yourself in case of a hazardous materials incident
To protect yourself, you will need to familiarize yourself with the potential dangers, understand the warning system in the community and be ready to shelter -in-place or evacuate.
If you are aware of the possible threats in your area, you’ll remain alerted to the risks and stay safe. Moreover, you can contribute to the local emergency management or LEPC discussions about any hazardous materials issues that affect the community directly.
Readiness tips before the hazardous materials emergency.
It’s important to create a plan that you can execute during a hazardous materials emergency. Consider these tips:
- Communicate with the LEPC in your community to get more information about the hazards.
- Enquire from the LEPC on what you can do to minimize the risk to your family, neighbors, and the community from the dangerous materials.
- Include plastic sheeting, scissors, and duct tape to the disaster kit supply list.
- Designate a shelter room. Ensure the room has few openings to the outside and is above the ground.
Preparation tips during an emergency
You need to report any hazardous substance release immediately to the local emergency services offices in your community. The duty officers have the technical expertise to offer you spill cleanup advice, coordinate with contractors cleaning up the dangerous material spills and make sure that the environmental cleanup is properly completed.
If a hazardous materials emergency occurs, you can listen to local television and radio stations to get detailed instructions or information. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully. Don’t forget that some harmful chemicals are odorless, so keep off contaminated areas to minimize risks.
If you’re told to stay at home then:
- Take your pets indoors.
- Lock all the exterior windows and doors.
- Stay in your pre-selected shelter room.
- Close fireplace dampers, vents, and inner doors.
- Avoid drinking or eating any water or food that may be contaminated.
- Seal any gaps under your windows and doorways with plastic sheeting or wet towels and duct tape.
- Seal gaps around the air conditioner system and windows, kitchen, and bathroom fans and dryer and stove vents with plastic sheeting and tape, aluminum wrap or wax paper.
- Make use of materials to fill the holes and cracks in the room, like the ones found in round pipes
- If vapors or gas entered the building by any chance, be sure to take shallow breaths through a towel or cloth.
When requested to evacuate then:
- Leave immediately.
- Stay tuned to television or radio stations to get more information on temporary shelters, evacuation routes, as well as procedures.
- Follow the routes the authorities recommend since shortcuts can be unsafe.
- Whenever there is adequate time, ensure that you close all vents, windows and turn off fans to reduce contamination in the house.
- Take the disaster supplies you assembled with you while evacuating.
- Assist your neighbors if they need your help.
If you were caught outside then:
- Keep off from the accident victims until the dangerous material is identified.
- Stay uphill, upstream and upwind.
- Move far away from the scene and assist others to stay away.
- Avoid walking into or touching spilled liquid, condensed solid chemical deposits or airborne mists.
- Do your best, so you don’t inhale smoke, gasses, and fumes.
- If you can, consider covering your mouth with a cloth as you leave the dangerous area.
If you happen to be caught in a motor vehicle then:
- Stop the auto and look for shelter immediately, preferably in a permanent building.
- In case you have to stay in the vehicle, ensure that you keep the vents and windows closed and then shut the heater and air conditioner off.
Readiness tips after the emergency
Below are guidelines that must be followed by everyone in your family after a hazardous materials emergency:
- When evacuated, go home after the authorities confirm that everything is safe.
- Open vents, windows and turn on fans for ventilation.
- Communicate with local authorities to know how you can clean up the property and your land.
- Be sure to report lingering vapors or other hazards to the local emergency services offices.
In case you have been exposed or come into contact with hazardous chemicals, consider doing the following:
- Follow all the decontamination instructions given by the local authorities. They can advise you to stay away from water and use another procedure or take a thorough shower.
- If you note any unusual symptoms, seek medical treatment immediately.
- Ensure that exposed shoes and clothing are sealed tightly in containers. Don’t let them come into contact with other materials. Contact local authorities to know more about the best disposal methods to use.
- Inform everyone who comes close to you that you are exposed to a dangerous substance.
Be sure to consider these precautions when faced with hazardous material incidents to keep yourself, your family and the entire community safe.