Hazardous Materials Accidents

Hazardous materials are substances which, because of their chemical, biological or physical nature, pose a potential risk to life, health or property if they are released. Potential hazards can occur during any stage of use from production and storage to transportation, use or disposal. Production and storage occurs in chemical plants, gas stations, hospitals and many other sites. Hazardous materials accidents can range from a chemical spill on a highway to groundwater contamination by naturally occurring methane gas to a household hazardous materials accident. Radiological accidents involving a specific hazardous material will be covered in another section of this handbook. In addition to the information provided in the following pages, you should also refer to the General Family Preparedness section of this handbook.

Preparing for Hazardous Materials Accidents in the Home

  1. Go on a home hazard hunt. Some cleaners can cause an explosion or fire if they come in contact with each other, water, heat or flames.

  2. Make a list of the hazardous products you have in your home. List the name of the product and emergency care information.

  3. Store hazardous household products according to safety recommendations.

  4. To prevent household hazardous materials from being spilled during a disaster such as a flood, fire or earthquake, take the following preventive measures:

  5. Be aware of how different chemicals may react during mixed spills. Some common chemicals and their dangers are:

What to Do If a Hazardous Materials Accident Occurs

  1. If you witness a hazardous materials accident, spill or leak, call 911, your local emergency number or the fire department as soon as possible.

  2. Stay away from the incident site to minimize your chances of contamination.

  3. 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.

  4. If you are told to evacuate, do so immediately.

    Before leaving your home or office, close all windows, shut vents and turn off attic fans to minimize contamination.

  5. In some circumstances, it is safer to keep community residents inside. This is known as "in-place sheltering." If you are instructed to stay inside:

  6. Avoid contact with any spilled liquid materials, airborne mist or condensed solid chemical deposit.

    Keep your body fully covered and wear gloves, socks and shoes, even though these measures may offer minimal protection.

  7. Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

  1. Do not return home until authorities say it is safe.

  2. Upon returning home, open windows and vents, and turn on fans to provide ventilation.

  3. A person or item that has been exposed to a hazardous material may be contaminated and could contaminate other people or items. If you have come in contact with or been exposed to hazardous materials:

  4. Advise others who come in contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.

  5. Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services.

  6. Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.

Reacting to a Hazardous Spill in Your Home

  1. If the spill is large and too big for one person to control and clean up, cal 911 or your local emergency number as soon as possible.

  2. Keep the area of the spill from spreading. Set up barriers and ventilate the area if it is inside the home or garage. Keep children and pets away.

  3. Check label for instructions about contact.

  4. Clean up as soon as possible.

  5. Place all cloths in a used plastic bag. Double bag, seal and label.

  6. Completely rinse the area and any tools used.

  7. Dispose of contaminated materials in an appropriate manner according to directions on the label.

  8. If the spill is a very toxic product, decontaminate clothing and equipment to avoid contaminating your home and others. Follow the same decontamination procedures you would for a toxic spill outside the home.

Special Considerations for Agricultural Producers

In addition to the precautions and responses covered in the previous pages, the agricultural producer will want to consider the following measures. Also refer to the section on General Family Preparedness.

Prevent a hazardous materials accident by making sure agricultural chemicals are properly stored. Follow instructions on labels.

What to do if a Hazardous Materials Accident Occurs

  1. Follow the same response procedures outlined in the first part of this section.

  2. If livestock are downwind, downhill or downstream of the incident move them as far from the area as possible.

  3. Do not enter the area or attempt to reach animals if you must pass the area of incident.

  4. Refer to the Radiological Accidents section for information on protecting food and water sources.

After a Hazardous Materials Accident

  1. Monitor animals for signs of illness that may be associated with the accident.

  2. Contact local authorities for information on the cleanup of land and animals.