Hazardous Materials Accidents

Hazard Information

Hazardous materials are chemical substances, which if released or misused can pose a threat to the environment or health. These chemicals are used in industry, agriculture, medicine, research, and consumer goods - and can be found almost anywhere, from major industrial plants to local dry cleaning establishments or gardening supply stores. Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials.

A hazardous materials accident can occur anywhere. Communities located near chemical manufacturing plants are particularly at risk but any area is considered vulnerable because these materials are transported on our roadways, railways, and waterways daily. Hazardous materials in various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings, homes, and other property.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself and Your Family

  • Learn to detect the presence of a hazardous material. Many hazardous materials do not have a taste or an odor. Some materials can be detected because they cause physical reactions such as watering eyes or nausea. Some hazardous materials exist beneath the surface of the ground and can be recognized by an oil or foam-like appearance
  • Have your Disaster Supply Kit ready

If You Are Caught at the Scene of an Accident

  • If you see an accident, call 911 or the local fire department to report the nature and location of the accident as soon as possible.
  • Move away from the accident scene and help keep others away
  • Do not walk into or touch any of the spilled substances. Try not to inhale gas, fumes, and smoke. If possible, cover your mouth with a cloth while leaving the area.
  • Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.
  • Try to stay upstream, uphill, and upwind of the accident.

If Asked to Stay Indoors (In-Place Sheltering)

  • Seal your house so no contaminants can enter
  • Close and lock windows and doors.
  • Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels and duct tape.
  • Seal gaps around window and air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper, or aluminum wrap.
  • Close Fireplace dampers
  • Close off nonessential rooms such as storage areas, laundry rooms, and extra bedrooms.
  • Turn off ventilation systems.
  • Bring pets inside
  • Immediately after the "in-place sheltering" announcement is issued, fill up bathtubs or large containers for an additional water supply and turn off the intake valve to the house.
  • If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel.
  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.
  • Monitor the local Emergency Broadcast System station for further updates and remain in shelter until authorities indicate it is safe to come out.
  • 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 take to evacuate the area, weather conditions, and the time of day.

If You Are Asked to Evacuate

  • Stay tuned to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures. Follow the routes recommended by the authorities, as shortcuts may not be safe. Leave at once.
  • If you have time, minimize contamination in the house by closing all windows, shutting all vents, and turning off attic fans.
  • Take pre-assembled disaster supplies
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require assistance - infants, elderly people, and people with disabilities.
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Follow local instructions concerning the safety of food and water.
  • Clean up and dispose of residue carefully. Follow instructions from emergency officials concerning cleanup methods.

Assisting Accident Victims

  • Don't try to care for victims of a hazardous materials accident until the substance has been identified and authorities indicate it is safe to go near victims. Then you can move victims to fresh air and call for emergency medical care.
  • Remove contaminated clothing and shoes and place them in a plastic bag.
  • Cleanse victims that have come in contact with 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.