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Chemical and Hazardous Materials

Chemical and hazardous substances, if released or misused, can pose a threat to you or the environment.

photo of Haz-Mat team and chemical drum

Chemicals may include items found around your home or in your garage. Hazardous materials may include substances that are transported on roadways, railways, waterways, and pipelines. Remember that an incident involving chemicals or hazardous materials can happen in your community through accident or intentional action, such as an act of terrorism.

Many hazardous materials do not have any odor, and may only be detected once physical symptoms like watering eyes or nausea occur. Some hazardous materials can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings and property. They can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (2 to 48 hours).

You may be exposed to Chemicals in three ways:

  1. Inhaling the chemical or hazardous material.
  2. Swallowing contaminated substances, food, water, or medication.
  3. Touching it or coming into contact with clothing or objects that have touched the substance.

Your local fire department or emergency management agency may have additional information on chemical or hazardous materials that might impact your community.

Take Action Before Exposure to Chemicals and Hazardous Materials

Before a chemical or hazardous materials incident, it is important to know the types of hazards that you may be exposed to in your home and community. You can contact your local emergency management office or fire department to better understand the hazardous materials that might impact your community. These individuals can also provide you with information on evacuation routes that can be used during a chemical or hazardous materials emergency.

Steps to Be Ready

  1. Complete the Family Emergency Plan pdf file and discuss it as a family. This is a simple way of keeping each member of the family informed on critical information: where to reconnect should you become separated, who to call, and what you will do should a chemical or hazardous material emergency occur.
  2. Complete the Emergency Contacts Card pdf file and place one in your Emergency Kit.
  3. Prepare an Emergency Kit. The Emergency Kit should be easily accessible should you and your family be forced to shelter in place (stay at home) for a period of time.

Be Safe During a Chemical or Hazards Materials Emergency

If you are directly exposed to any hazardous substance, dial 9-1-1. In many cases decontamination is needed within minutes of exposure to minimize health consequences. Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so. If materials are available to safely remove a chemical from a person try to help them as much as possible; however, continue to seek help from first responders.

If there is a hazardous materials incident in your community, listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information and instructions. Heed all warnings and directions provided by local public safety officials. If you witness a hazardous materials incident, spill or leak, call 911. Avoid contact with any spilled liquid materials, airborne mist or condensed solid deposit. Move to an upwind location and away from any visible plumes.

Be Safe Outside

  • If you are caught outside during an incident, try to stay upstream, uphill and upwind. Hazardous materials can be transported quickly by water and wind.

Be Safe in Your Vehicle

  • If you are in a vehicle, stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, close car windows and vents and shut off the air conditioner and heater.

Be Safe if You Evacuate

  • If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately. In general, try to go at least one-half mile away from the area contaminated with the hazardous material.

Be Safe if You Shelter-in-Place

  • You may be asked to shelter in place if a hazardous materials incident occurs. If advised to do so, close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible. Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems.
  • In large buildings, set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building. If this is not possible, ventilation systems should be turned off.
  • Go into a pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside. Seal the room by covering each window, door, and vent using plastic sheeting and duct tape. Use material to fill cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes.

Take Action After a Chemical or Hazards Materials Incident

After a chemical or hazardous materials incident, it is important to remember that your environment may still contain toxins. Emergency response officials will advise you of any actions you may need to take to clean-up your property.

  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe. When instructed to do so, open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.

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