Chemical Emergencies

Why Talk About Chemical Emergencies?

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Hazardous materials are chemical substances, which if released or misused, can pose a threat to the environment. These chemicals are 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 chemicals are introduced. Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because 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 though we often don't think about it, we use chemicals every day. They can be found in our kitchens, medicine cabinets, basements, and garages. Chemicals 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 longer, healthier lives.

A home chemical emergency arises when chemicals are used improperly. 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 prevented.

A major chemical emergency is an accident that releases a hazardous amount of a chemical into the environment. Accidents can happen underground, on railroad tracks or highways, and at manufacturing plants. These accidents 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 notified by the authorities. To get your attention, a siren could 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.

Learn more about your risk of chemical emergencies by contacting your local poison control center, local authorities on hazardous materials, the Environmental Protection Agency, your local emergency manager, or local American Red Cross chapter.

Awareness Information

You may be exposed to a chemical even though you may not be able to see or smell anything unusual. You may be exposed in three ways: Learn about chemicals and chemical emergencies: If you find someone who appears to have been injured from chemical exposure, make sure you are not in danger before administering first aid.  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.

The best way to protect yourself and your family is to be prepared. Knowing what to watch for and how to respond will keep you alert to potential chemical hazards.

Preventing Chemical Emergencies in the Home

What to Do During a Home Chemical Emergency

Plan for Major Chemical Emergencies

Discuss chemical emergencies with your family. Everyone should know what to do in case all family members are not together. Discussing major chemical emergencies ahead of time helps reduce fear and anxiety and lets everyone know how to respond.

Assemble a 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:

Media and Community Education Ideas

What to Do During a Major Chemical Emergency

You will be told the following:

What to Do if You Are at the Scene of a Chemical Accident

How to Shelter-in-Place

One of the basic instructions you may be given in a chemical emergency is to shelter-in-place. This is a precaution aimed to keep you and your family safe while remaining in your home. If you are told to shelter-in-place, go inside, close all windows and vents and turn off all fans, heating or cooling systems. Take family members and pets to a safe room, seal windows and doors, and listen to local radio (or television) stations, or a NOAA Weather Radio for instructions.

Evacuation During a Chemical Emergency

If you are told to evacuate immediately, take your Disaster Supplies Kit. Pack only the bare essentials, such as medications, and leave your home quickly. Follow the route authorities recommend. Don't take shortcuts on the way to the shelter, they may be blocked or expose you to dangerous chemicals.

What to Do After a Major Chemical Emergency

For information pertaining to emergency planning and response in your own state, please see our state pages:
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