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Why Talk About Chemical Emergencies?
Hazardous materials are chemical substances, which if
misused, can pose a threat to the environment. These
used in industry, agriculture, medicine, research, and consumer goods.
As many as 500,000 products pose physical or health hazards and can be
defined as "hazardous chemicals." Each year, over 1,000 new synthetic
are introduced. Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives,
and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials. These
are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or
of chemical accidents in manufacturing plants.
What Is a Home Chemial Emergency, and a Major Chemical Emergency?
Chemicals are a natural and important part of our environment. Even
we often don't think about it, we use chemicals every day. They can be
found in our kitchens, medicine cabinets, basements, and garages.
help us keep our food fresh and our bodies clean. They help our plants
grow and fuel our cars. And chemicals make it possible for us to live
A home chemical emergency arises when chemicals are used
Some chemicals that are safe, and even helpful in small amounts, can be
harmful in larger quantities or under certain conditions. In fact, most
chemical accidents occur in our own homes, and they can be
A major chemical emergency is an accident that releases a
amount of a chemical into the environment. Accidents can happen
on railroad tracks or highways, and at manufacturing plants. These
sometimes result in a fire or explosion, but many times you cannot see
or smell anything unusual.
In the event of a major chemical emergency, you will be
the authorities. To get your attention, a siren could sound, you may be
called by telephone, or emergency personnel may drive by and give
over a loudspeaker. Officials might even come to your door.
Learn more about your risk of chemical emergencies by
local poison control center, local authorities on hazardous materials,
your local emergency manager, or
local American Red Cross chapter.
You may be exposed to a chemical even though you may not be
see or smell anything unusual. You may be exposed in three
Learn about chemicals and chemical emergencies:
- Breathing the chemical.
- Swallowing contaminated food, water, or medication.
- Touching the chemical, or coming into contact with clothing
or things that
have touched the chemical.
If you find someone who appears to have been injured from
make sure you are not in danger before administering first
If you think there might be potential danger, call 9-1-1 or your local
emergency number. If there is no danger, give first aid as needed.
- Chemicals are everywhere. They are an important part of
- The most common chemical accidents occur in our own homes,
and they can
- The best way to avoid chemical accidents is to read and
follow the directions
for use, storage, and disposal of the product. Mixing products can be
The best way to protect yourself and your family is to be
Knowing what to watch for and how to respond will keep you alert to
Preventing Chemical Emergencies in the Home
- Learn about household chemical risk.
Contact authorities on hazardous
household materials, such as the Environmental
Protection Agency, for information about potentially
products and their antidotes. Ask about the advisability of maintaining
antidotes in your home for cleaners and germicides, deodorizers,
drain and bowl cleaners, gases, home medications, laundry bleaches,
fuels, and paint removers and thinners.
- Keep all medicines, cosmetics, cleaning
products, and other household
chemicals out of sight and out of reach of children. The most
home chemical emergencies involve small children eating medicines.
in the field of chemical manufacturing suggest that moving hazardous
out of sight could eliminate up to 75 percent of all poisonings of
- Flush medicines that are no longer being used or
that are outdated down
the toilet, and place the empty container in the trash.
can sometimes cause ill effects. Flushing them will eliminate the risk
of people or animals picking them out of garbage.
- Store household chemicals according to the
instructions on the label.
Non-food products should be stored tightly closed in their original
so you can always identify the contents of each container and how to
use the product.
- Avoid mixing common household chemical products.
of these products, such as ammonia and chlorine bleach, can create
- Always read the directions before using a new
product. To avoid
inhaling dangerous vapors, do not use some products in a small,
space. Other products should not be used without gloves and eye
to help prevent the chemical from touching your body.
- Read instructions on how to dispose of chemicals
disposal can result in harm to yourself or members of your family,
contamination of the local water supply, or harm to other people. It is
also important to dispose of products properly to preserve the
and protect wildlife. Plus, some products can be recycled, which helps
protect the environment. If you have questions about how to properly
of a chemical, call the facility or the environmental or recycling
- Small amounts of the following products can be
safely poured down the
drain with plenty of water: antifreeze, bathroom and glass
bleach, drain cleaner, fertilizer, household disinfectant, laundry and
dishwashing detergent, rubbing alcohol, rug and upholstery cleaner, and
toilet bowl cleaner.
- Small amounts of the following products should
be disposed of by wrapping
the container in newspaper and plastic and placing it in the trash: brake
fluid, car wax or polish, dish and laundry soap, drain cleaner,
furniture and floor polish, insect repellent, nail polish, oven
paint thinners and strippers, pesticides, power cleaners, toilet bowl
water-based paint, and wood preservatives.
- Dispose of the following products at a recycling
center or a collection
site: kerosene, motor or fuel oil, car battery or battery
fuel, transmission fluid, large amounts of paint, paint thinner or
power steering fluid, turpentine, gun cleaning solvents, and tires.
- Empty spray cans by pressing the button until
nothing comes out, then
place the can in the trash. Do not place spray cans into a
barrel, incinerator, or trash compactor because they may explode.
- Never smoke while using household chemicals.
Avoid using hair spray,
cleaning solutions, paint products, or pesticides near the open flame
an appliance, pilot light, lighted candle, fireplace, wood burning
etc. Although you may not be able to see or smell them, vapor
in the air could catch fire or explode.
- If you should spill a chemical, clean it up
immediately with rags, being
careful to protect your eyes and skin. Allow the fumes in
to evaporate outdoors in a safe place, then dispose of them by wrapping
them in a newspaper and placing them in a sealed plastic bag. Dispose
these materials with your trash.
- Buy only as much of a chemical as you think you
will use. If you
have product left over, try to give it to someone who will use it.
hazardous chemicals increases risk to chemical emergencies.
- Keep an A-B-C-rated fire extinguisher in the
home and car, and get training
from your local fire department on how to use them. Should
ignite, you will have an opportunity to extinguish the fire before it
avoiding greater damage.
- Post the number of the nearest poison control
center by all telephones.
In an emergency situation you may not have time to look up critical
- Learn to detect the presence of a hazardous
material. Many hazardous
materials do not have a taste or an odor. Some materials can be
because they cause physical reactions such as watering eyes or nausea.
Some hazardous materials exist beneath the surface of the ground and
be recognized by an oil or foam-like appearance. Recognizing them
will allow you to take steps to avoid direct contact and limit your
to potentially hazardous chemicals.
- Learn to recognize the symptoms of toxic
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, or respiratory
- Changes in skin color.
- Headache or blurred vision.
- Clumsiness or lack of coordination.
- Cramps or diarrhea.
What to Do During a Home Chemical Emergency
If your child should eat or drink a non-food substance, find
containers immediately and take them to the phone. The poison
center may need specific information from the container to give you the
best emergency advice.
Call the poison control center, emergency medical
9-1-1, or the operator. They will give you emergency advice
wait for professional help.
Follow the emergency operator's or dispatcher's
Often the first aid advice found on containers may not be appropriate.
Do not give anything by mouth until you have been advised by medical
If a hazardous substance comes into contact with an
eye, it is important
to take immediate action. Delaying first aid can greatly
likelihood of injury. Flush the eye with clear, lukewarm water for a
of 15 minutes, unless authorities instruct you not to use water on the
particular chemical involved. Continue the cleansing process even if
victim indicates he or she is no longer feeling any pain, then seek
If there is danger of a fire or explosion, get out
of the house immediately.
Do not waste time collecting items or calling the fire department when
you are in danger.
If there is a fire or explosion, call the fire
department from outside
(a cellular phone or a neighbor's phone). Once you are safely
from danger, call for professional help.
Stay away from the house to avoid the possibility
of breathing toxic
Wash hands, arms, or other parts of the body that
may have been exposed
to the chemical. Chemicals may continue to irritate the skin
they are washed off.
Discard any clothing that may have been
contaminated. Some chemicals
may not wash out completely. Discarding clothes will prevent potential
Administer first aid treatment to victims of
- Call 9-1-1 for emergency help.
- Remove clothing and jewelry from around the injury.
- Pour clean, cool water over the burn for 15 to 30
- Loosely cover the burn with a sterile or clean
dressing. Be sure that the
dressing will not stick to the burn.
- Refer victim to a medical professional for further
Plan for Major Chemical Emergencies
Learn about your community's risk from major chemical
Contact your emergency management agency or American
Red Cross chapter for information on chemical plants and
material transportation routes in your area.
Discuss chemical emergencies with your family.
Everyone should know
what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing
chemical emergencies ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and
everyone know how to respond.
Find out evacuation plans for your workplace and
schools. Different locations have different plans. Know where
your children may be taken in the event of a major chemical emergency.
Develop an evacuation plan. (See "Evacuation"
in the "Family Disaster Plan" section.) Everyone in your
know where to go if they have to leave. Trying to make plans at the
minute can be upsetting and create confusion.
Learn about industry and community warning signals.
communities may have different ways of providing warnings. Many
have sirens intended for outdoor warning purposes. Use a NOAA weather
with a tone-alert feature to keep you aware of warnings while you are
Disaster Supplies Kit
Please see the "Disaster
Supplies Kit" section
for general supplies kit information. Specific supplies for a chemical
emergency should include the following:
- Disaster Supply Kit basics.
- Evacuation Supply Kit.
Media and Community Education Ideas
Publish a special section in your local newspaper with emergency
on hazardous materials. Localize the information by printing the phone
numbers of the local poison control center, emergency services offices,
the American Red Cross,
Interview a member of your community's Local Emergency
about what hazardous substances may be in your community, where they
kept in large quantities, and by what routes they are transported
Publish a chart of warning symbols and terms.
Publish a series on hazardous materials that can be found in
and the proper antidotes for them.
Stage a demonstration to show people how to seal off their
by working with emergency building materials, such as sandbags,
and plastic sheeting.
What to Do During a Major Chemical Emergency
You will be told the following:
- If you hear a siren or other warning signal,
turn on a radio or television
for further emergency information. You will be notified of a
chemical emergency by the authorities. To get your attention, a siren
sound, you may be called by telephone, or emergency personnel may drive
by and give instructions over a loudspeaker. Officials might even come
to your door.
- Listen carefully to the radio or television.
The Emergency Alert
System (EAS), which has replaced the Emergency Broadcast System, may be
activated. You will be given specific instructions for your particular
- Strictly follow instructions. Your
life could depend on it.
- The type of health hazard.
- The area affected.
- How to protect yourself.
- Evacuation routes (if necessary).
- Shelter locations.
- Type and location of medical facilities.
- The phone numbers to call if you need extra help.
Call EMS, 9-1-1, or the operator only for a possible
emergency. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in
They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
What to Do if You Are at the Scene of a Chemical Accident
- Call 9-1-1 or the local fire department to
report the nature and location
of the accident as soon as possible. Alerting local
a major chemical emergency immediately may help reduce potential injury
- Move away from the accident scene and help
others away. Minimizing
the time you are exposed reduces your risk of injury from breathing
chemicals. Some chemicals may ignite or explode.
- Stay away from the spilled substance and avoid
touching it. If you
are not sure of a substance or its effects, wait for authorities on the
scene to advise you of proper medical care or attention to minimize
- Try to avoid inhaling gases, fumes, or smoke. If
possible, cover your
mouth with a cloth while leaving the area. Many chemicals can
- Stay away from accident victims until the
hazardous material has been
identified. Once a substance has been identified and
it is safe to go near victims, you can move victims to fresh air and
for emergency medical care. Remove contaminated clothing and shoes and
place them in a plastic bag. Cleanse victims who have come in contact
chemicals by immediately pouring cold water over the skin or eyes with
running water for at least 15 minutes, unless authorities instruct you
not to use water on the particular chemical involved. Minimizing your
will decrease potential injury.
- Try to stay upstream, uphill, and upwind of the
may be carried by water, gravity, or wind. Minimize your exposure.
How to Shelter-in-Place
One of the basic instructions you may be given in a chemical
is to shelter-in-place. This is a precaution aimed to keep
your family safe while remaining in your home. If you are told to
go inside, close all windows and vents and turn off all fans, heating
cooling systems. Take family members and pets to a safe room, seal
and doors, and listen to local radio (or television) stations, or a
Weather Radio for instructions.
- While gathering your family, you can provide a
minimal amount of breathing
protection by covering your mouth and nose with a damp cloth.
chemicals can cause damage to breathing passages.
- Immediately after the shelter-in-place
announcement is issued, fill
up bathtubs or large containers for an additional water supply, and
off the intake valve to the house. Water supplies may become
Preserve the water you have available.
- If gas or vapors could have entered the
building, take shallow breaths
through a cloth or a towel. Many chemicals can cause damage
- Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that
may be contaminated.
Injury may occur from eating or drinking toxic chemicals.
- Seal house so contaminants cannot enter:
- Close and lock all windows and doors in your
- Turn off all fans, heating and air
- Close the fireplace damper.
- Seal gaps and cracks under doorways and
windows with wet towels and
- Seal gaps around window and air conditioning
units, bathroom and kitchen
exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic
wax paper, or aluminum wrap.
- Close off nonessential rooms such as storage
areas, laundry rooms, and
- Turn off ventilation systems.
- Go to an above-ground room (not the basement)
with the fewest windows
and doors. Some chemicals are heavier than air, and may seep
even if the windows are closed.
- Take your Disaster Supplies Kit with you.
These items may make you
more comfortable while you are waiting for further instructions.
- Stay in the room and listen to your radio or
television until you are
told all is safe, or you are told to evacuate. Local
call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your
Following the advice of local authorities is your safest choice.
- If you are told there is danger of explosion,
close the window shades,
blinds, or curtains. To avoid injury, stay away from the windows.
windows break due to the explosion, the shades will help prevent glass
from shattering into your home.
Evacuation During a Chemical Emergency
If you are told to evacuate immediately, take your Disaster Supplies
Pack only the bare essentials, such as medications, and leave your home
quickly. Follow the route authorities recommend. Don't take shortcuts
the way to the shelter, they may be blocked or expose you to dangerous
- It is important to stay calm, listen carefully,
and follow all instructions.
Authorities will decide if evacuation is necessary, based primarily on
the type and amount of chemical released and how long it is expected to
affect an area. Other considerations are the length of time it should
to evacuate the area, weather conditions, and the time of day.
will advise you of the safest steps to take for your particular
- If an evacuation order is issued, listen to your
radio to make sure
the evacuation order applies to you, and to understand if you are to
immediately or if you have time to pack some essentials. Stay
a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary
and procedures. Following the advice of local authorities is your
- Avoid using the telephone. Use your
phone only in life-threatening
emergencies, and then call the poison control center, EMS, 9-1-1, or
operator immediately. Telephone lines are frequently overwhelmed in
situations. They need to be clear for emergency calls to get through.
- If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.
may call for evacuation in specific areas at greatest risk in your
Following the advice of local authorities is your safest protection.
- Take your Disaster Supplies Kit. These
items may make you more comfortable
while you are away from home.
- Only if you have time, seal your house so
contaminants cannot enter:
- Shut off all vents.
- Close fireplace dampers.
- You don't need to turn off your refrigerator
or freezer, but you should
turn off all other appliances and lights as you leave.
- Close and lock your windows and doors.
- Move quickly and calmly. Leaving the
area as quickly as possible
will reduce your chance of exposure to hazardous materials. Staying
and rational will help you move safely and avoid delays or accidents
by irrational behavior.
- Do not assume that a shelter will have
everything you need. While
shelters provide a safe place to stay and food, specialty items for
and individuals on restricted diets may not be available. In most major
chemical emergencies, shelters will provide only emergency items such
meals, cots, and blankets.
- If you need a ride, ask a neighbor. If
no neighbor is available
to help you, listen to local radio or television stations for further
- Check on neighbors to make sure they have been
notified, and offer help
to those with disabilities or other special needs. Elderly
people with disabilities may require additional assistance, and people
who care for them or who have large families may need assistance in
- Take only one vehicle to the evacuation site.
Traffic may be very
heavy and parking at a shelter may be limited. Reduce further
and keep your family together by eliminating additional vehicles.
- Close your car windows and air vents, and turn
off the heater or air
conditioner. Many chemicals can cause damage to breathing
- For your safety, follow the exact route you are
told to take. Shortcuts
may put you in the path of danger.
What to Do After a Major Chemical Emergency
- Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
on the scene are the best source of information for your particular
- Follow local instructions concerning the safety
of food and water.
Contaminated food or water can cause illness.
- Clean up and dispose of residue carefully.
Follow instructions from
emergency officials concerning cleanup methods. Local officials will
know proper procedures for your particular situation.
Produced by the National
Disaster Education Coalition: American
Red Cross, FEMA,
IAEM, IBHS, NFPA, NWS, USDA/CSREES,
and USGS. HTML
formating By the
From: Talking About Disaster: Guide for Standard
by the National Disaster Education Coalition, Washington, D.C., 1999.
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