Chemicals are found everywhere. They purify drinking water, increase crop production, and simplify household chores. But chemicals also can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use, or disposal. You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work, or play.
Hazardous materials in various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings, homes, and other property. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely. These products are also shipped daily on the nation’s highways, railroads, waterways, and pipelines.
Chemical manufacturers are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others, including service stations, hospitals, and hazardous materials waste sites.
Varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States–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. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.
How can I protect myself?
- What to do before a hazardous materials incident
- What to do during a hazardous materials incident
- What to do after a hazardous materials incident
WHAT TO DO BEFORE A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL INCIDENT
You should add the following supplies to your disaster kit:
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
Learn more about Hazardous Household Products:
Hazardous products and substances are classified into four categories based on the property or properties they exhibit.
Corrosive Products – Corrosive substances or vapors deteriorate or irreversibly damage body tissues with which they come in contact and erode the surface of other materials. Examples of corrosive products may include: abrasive cleaners, ammonia bleach based cleaners, car batteries, chlorine bleach, disinfectant and oven cleaners, drain openers and cleaners, glass and window cleaners, photographic and pool chemicals, rug and upholstery cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners.
Flammable Products – Flammable substances are capable of burning in the air at any temperature. Examples of flammable products may include: air fresheners, floor and furniture polish, shoe polish, enamel or oil-based paints, engine cleaners and degreasers, furniture and paint strippers, gasoline and diesel fuel, hairspray, deodorants, kerosene, motor oil, transmission fluid, paints and primers, rug and upholstery cleaners, rust paints, solvent-based glues, solvents for cleaning firearms, spot removers, stains and varnishes, and wood preservatives.
Toxic Products – Toxic substances may poison, injure or be lethal substances when they are eaten, absorbed through the mouth and stomach, absorbed through the skin or inhaled into the lungs. Examples of toxic products may include: antifreeze, artist and model paints, batteries, car wax containing solvents, chemical fertilizers, drugs, medicines, pharmaceuticals, fungicides, herbicides, weed killers, insecticides, latex paint, oil or water-based paints, mothballs, nail polish and nail polish remover, pet products, flea collars, flea sprays, rat and mouse poisons, snail and slug poisons, and roach and ant killers.
Reactive Products – Reactive substances can produce vapors or explode when they react with air, water or other substances.
Consider the following tips when you and/or store household products:
- Note and post the number of the local poison control center
- Read and follow directions carefully
- Use only amount indicated
- Avoid mixing chemical products or cleaners
- Avoid splashing
- Wear protective clothing, dust mask and safety glasses
- Work in well-ventilated areas
- Take frequent breaks for fresh air
- Keep away from children and expectant mothers
- Use original containers for storage
- Regularly check containers for wear and tear
- Use larger, clearly marked containers to store leaking packages
- Store materials in a cool, dry place
- Separate incompatible products.
WHAT TO DO DURING A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL INCIDENT
If you are asked to evacuate:
- Do so immediately.
- Stay tuned to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures.
- Follow the routes recommended by the authorities–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 special assistance–infants, elderly people and people with disabilities.
If you are caught outside:
- Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind! In general, try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Move away from the accident scene and help keep others away.
- Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth while leaving the area.
- Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.
If you are in a motor vehicle:
- Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
If you are requested to stay indoors:
- Bring pets inside.
- 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 the pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside.
- Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels or plastic sheeting 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.
- Use material to fill cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes.
- If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel. Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.
WHAT TO DO AFTER A HAZARDOUS MATERIAL INCIDENT
The following are guidelines for the period following a hazardous materials incident:
- Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
- Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals. Do the following:
- Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. You may be advised to take a thorough shower, or you may be advised to stay away from water and follow another procedure.
- Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible.
- Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Do not allow them to contact other materials. Call local authorities to find out about proper disposal.
- Advise everyone who comes in to contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
- Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.
- Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.