Chemical Emergency Preparedness

About Chemical Emergencies

People in chemical protective gear responding to chemical emergencyChemicals are a natural and important part of our environment. Even though we often don’t think about it, we use chemicals every day. Chemicals help 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. Under certain conditions, chemicals can also be poisonous or have a harmful effect on your health. Some chemicals that are safe, and even helpful in small amounts, can be harmful in larger quantities or under certain conditions.

Chemical accidents do happen, at home and in the community. The American Red Cross wants you to be prepared by following our chemical emergency preparedness recommendations.

How You May Be Exposed to a Chemical

You may be exposed to a chemical in three ways:
  • Breathing the chemical
  • Swallowing contaminated food, water, or medication
  • Touching the chemical, or coming into contact with clothing or things that have touched the chemical
Remember, you may be exposed to chemicals even though you may not be able to see or smell anything unusual.

Chemical Accidents Can Be Prevented

Chemicals are found everywhere – in our kitchens, medicine cabinets, basements, and garages. In fact, most chemical accidents occur in our own homes. And they can be prevented.

Prepare for a Chemical Emergency

American Red CrossHome chemical accidents can result from trying to improve the way a product works by adding one substance to another, not following directions for use of a product, or by improper storage or disposal of a chemical. Fortunately, a few simple precautions can help you avoid many chemical emergencies.
    • Avoid mixing chemicals, even common household products. Some combinations, such as ammonia and bleach, can create toxic gases.
    • Always read and follow the directions when using a new product. Some products should not be used in small, confined spaces to avoid inhaling dangerous vapors. Other products should not be used without gloves and eye protection to help prevent the chemical from touching your body.
    • Store chemical products properly. Non-food products should be stored tightly closed in their original containers so you can always identify the contents of each container and how to properly use the product. Better yet – don’t store chemicals at home. Buy only as much of a chemical as you think you will use. If you have product left over, try to give it to someone who will use it. Or see below for tips on proper disposal.
    • Beware of fire. Never smoke while using household chemicals. Don’t use hair spray, cleaning solutions, paint products, or pesticides near the open flame of an appliance, pilot light, lighted candle, fireplace, wood burning stove, etc. Although you may not be able to see or smell them, vapor particles in the air could catch fire or explode.
    • Clean up any spills immediately with some rags, being careful to protect your eyes and skin. Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors in a safe place, then wrap them in a newspaper and place the bundle in a sealed plastic bag. Dispose of these materials with your trash. If you don’t already have one, buy a fire extinguisher that is labeled for A, B, and C class fires and keep it handy.
    • Dispose of unused chemicals properly. Improper disposal can result in harm to yourself or members of your family, accidentally contaminate our local water supply, or harm other people or wildlife.

Many household chemicals can be taken to your local household hazardous waste collection facility. Many facilities accept pesticides, fertilizers, household cleaners, oil-based paints, drain and pool cleaners, antifreeze, and brake fluid. Some products can be recycled, which is better for our environment. If you have questions about how to dispose of a chemical, call the facility or the environmental or recycling agency to learn the proper method of disposal.

Respond During a Chemical Emergency

There are many organizations that help the community in an emergency, such as police, fire, and sheriff departments, the American Red Cross, and government agencies. All of these groups coordinate their activities through the local office of emergency management. In many areas there are local Hazardous Materials (Haz-Mat) Teams, who are trained to respond to chemical accidents.

If an accident involving hazardous materials occurs, you will be notified by the authorities as to what steps to take. You may hear a siren, be called by telephone, or emergency personnel may drive by and give instructions over a loudspeaker. Officials could even come to your door. If you hear a warning signal, you should go indoors and listen to a local Emergency Alert System (EAS) station for emergency instructions from county or state officials.

Important Points to Remember

  • In the event of an emergency, follow the instructions of the authorities carefully. They know best how to protect you and your family. Listen to your emergency broadcast stations on radio and TV.
  • Use your phone only in life-threatening emergencies, and then call the Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222), Emergency Medical Services (EMS), 9-1-1, or the operator immediately.
  • 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 emergency broadcast stations for instructions.
  • If you are told to evacuate immediately, follow your Family Disaster Plan. Take your Family Disaster Supplies Kit. Pack only the bare essentials, such as medications, and leave your home quickly. Follow the traffic route authorities recommend. Don’t take short cuts on the way to the shelter.
  • If you find someone who appears to have been injured from chemical exposure, make sure you are not in danger before administering First Aid.
  • And lastly, remember, the best way to protect yourself and your family is to be prepared.

In Case of Poisoning

The most common home chemical emergencies involve small children eating medicines. Keep all medicines, cosmetics, cleaning products, and other household chemicals out of sight and out of reach of children. Experts in the field of chemical manufacturing suggest that doing so could eliminate up to 75 percent of all poisoning of small children.

If someone in your home does eat or drink a non-food substance, find the container it came out of immediately and take it with you to the phone. Call the Poison Control Center(1-800-222-1222), or Emergency Medical Services (EMS), or 9-1-1, or call the operator and tell them exactly what your child ingested.

Follow their instructions carefully. Please be aware that the First Aid advice found on the container may not be appropriate. So, do not give anything by mouth until you have been advised by medical professionals.

Disaster Preparedness and Response

Always call 911 if you are in immediate danger and need emergency help.

debris-disaster

This page lists general information for homeowners, communities, schools, and facilities, that can apply to many different disaster situations. Much of this information is repeated on pages about specific types of natural events or disasters. More about how EPA responds to natural disasters.

On this page:

General:

Individuals, Homeowners:

Communities, Schools, Facilities:


General:

What You Can Do

Planning – Preparing for natural disasters can greatly reduce the risks to health and the environment. Hurricanes or floods can contaminate drinking water sources. Forest fires or volcanoes harm air quality. Tornadoes or earthquakes, by damaging factories or storage facilities, can release contaminants where people live or into the environment.

  • Individuals and homeowners can plan ahead to protect health for themselves and family members.
  • Communities, schools, and businesses can plan ahead to reduce risks and possible costs of storm-related spills or cleanup.
  • Learn about making an emergency plan, from Ready.gov

Recovery – Understanding risks will help speed recovery efforts and help keep problems from becoming worse. Improper use of portable generators or heating devices can release deadly carbon monoxide to indoor air. Ice-melting agents used improperly can pollute waterways. Large amounts of debris can present serious disposal problems for state and local communities. Owners or operators of damaged facilities may be responsible for reporting spills.

  • Individuals and homeowners can learn more about what, and what not, to do to protect health of themselves and family.
  • Communities, schools, and businesses can learn more about address large-scale risks and be aware of any legal requirements they may have under applicable regulations.

Top of Page

Report suspected spills, contamination, or possible violations.

  • To report oil, chemical, or hazardous substance spills, call the National Response Center 800-424-8802.
  • Report a suspected environmental violation online. When you don’t have Internet access, call the US EPA office for your state.
  • For pesticide poisoning, call 911 if the person is unconscious, has trouble breathing, or has convulsions. Otherwise, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Generator Safety

People get sick or die each year from carbon monoxide or “CO” poisoning due to unsafe use of generators.

Learn about government emergency messages before you need them:

  • FEMA Wireless Emergency Alerts – FEMA works with US cell phone carriers to send free emergency texts to cell phones (that can get text messages) within range. You don’t have to sign up to receive the messages.
  • Emergency Alert System – is a public warning system that uses existing TV, radio, cable, and other systems to send critical messages to the general public. Messages are local or national, depending on the situation.
  • NOAA Weather Radio – is a nationwide network of radio stations broadcasting continuous weather information directly from the nearest National Weather Service office. NWR broadcasts official Weather Service warnings, watches, forecasts and other hazard information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

    Top of Page

Individuals, Homeowners:

Returning home: Dealing with Debris and Damaged Buildings

Drinking water recovery

Home wastewater

  • What do I do with my home septic system after a flood? Do not drink your well wateruntil it is tested and safe. Do not use (flush) the sewage system until water in the soil absorption field is lower than the water level around the house. If you have a small business and your septic system has received chemicals, take extra precautions to prevent contact with water or inhaling fumes. Proper clean-up depends on the kinds of chemicals in the wastewater.

Limit contact with flood water

Flood water may have high levels of raw sewage or other hazardous substances. Early symptoms from exposure to contaminated flood water may include upset stomach, intestinal problems, headache and other flu-like discomfort. Anyone experiencing these and any other problems should immediately seek medical attention.

Mold

Top of Page

Communities, Schools, Facilities:

Facility wastewater – Communities or facilities

Disaster debris

Communities should plan ahead to handle exceptionally large amounts of disaster debris from damaged or destroyed buildings, supplies, trees or other green waste, carcasses, or other materials. Disposal problems can result from large amounts of debris but also from hazardous or toxic substances in the debris that can contaminate air, water, land, and food if not handled properly. Burning large amounts of debris to reduce volume may not be an option. More information on disaster debris.

Hazardous waste and homeland security

Pesticides, chemical and oil spills, hazardous waste

  • Call the National Response Center 800-424-8802 (24 hours a day every day). For those without 800 access, please call 202-267-2675.
  • Industries and businesses that encounter spills or discharges in the aftermath should contact the National Response Center immediately. You or your organization may have legal requirements for reporting or for taking other actions, depending on the spill.
  • National Pesticide Information Center: 1-800-858-7378. Pesticide contacts
  • Report spills or environmental violations

Renovation and rebuilding

Lead-safe work: By law, contractors need to use lead-safe work practices on emergency renovations on homes or buildings built before 1978. Activities such as sanding, cutting, and demolition can create lead-based paint hazards. Lead-contaminated dust is harmful to adults, particularly pregnant women, and children.

Asbestos: Anyone working on demolition, removal, and cleanup of building debris needs be aware of any asbestos and to handle asbestos materials properly. People exposed to asbestos dust can develop serious lung health problems including asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. Although the use of asbestos has dramatically decreased in recent years, it is still found in many residential and commercial buildings and can pose a serious health risk.

Underground Storage Tanks

During a flood, underground storage tank (UST) systems may become displaced or damaged and release their
contents into the environment, causing soil, surface water, and groundwater contamination.

Fuel Waivers

EPA works with the Department of Energy to address fuel supply disruptions caused by disasters or emergencies, by issuing fuel waivers for certain fuel standards, in affected areas.

Preparation and Planning for Bioterrorism Emergencies

NOTE: the following is a list of preparation and planning resources related specifically to bioterrorism. For resources relevant to preparation and planning for all types of emergencies, please see Emergency Preparedness and Response: Preparation and Planning.

Preparation & Planning for Specific Agents

Preparation & Planning for All Bioterrorism

Additional Research & References

Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

OCT 17, 2016

Celebrating 30 years of Citizens’ Right-to-Know

30 years ago today, the Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) was established through a law co-authored by the late Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey. Five years ago, the Senator recollected, “Everyone has a right to know if danger is lurking in their own backyard, but for a long time, Americans were denied this basic right.”

Senator Lautenberg was talking about the right of citizens to have access to information about which toxic chemicals industrial facilities are using and how much of each is released into the environment. EPA makes this information easily available to the public online. Most of the emissions tracked by TRI result from routine production operations, which are subject to regulatory requirements, but TRI also includes data on accidental releases and one-time remediation efforts.

Recently the program returned to its roots in EPA’s chemical safety office, and I am once again impressed by the power of disclosing this information to the public and the extent to which citizens, industry, researchers, and others have relied on it as a tool for informed decision making.

Administrator McCarthy echoed Senator Lautenberg’s statement recently when she said, “people deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution. By making that information easily accessible through online tools, maps, and reports, TRI is helping protect our health and environment.”

But don’t take it from us at EPA. Here’s what others have said about the impact of the TRI:

“After 30 years, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act has exceeded expectations in driving down the use and release of toxic chemicals. This law created the TRI Program and has given concerned citizens, researchers, and others access to information that should be a basic right to know. While it was a new approach in 1986, today more than fifty countries have established their own registries, using the TRI as a model.  These registries, in the U.S. and abroad, have allowed companies to learn best practices from each other and, simply by shining a spotlight on releases of toxic chemicals, have led to dramatic reductions.” – U.S. Senator Tom Udall

“The TRI Program provides a critical tool for informing and empowering communities to hold polluters accountable. I applaud EPA’s efforts to adapt TRI to technological advances and make the TRI data as accessible as possible.” – U.S. Representative Frank Pallone

“Having to report and having to keep a closer eye on the chemicals and the processes that we use offers an insight so that we can…look at the bigger picture and plan ahead to make reductions.” – Bette Danielson, Safety and Environmental Affairs Manager at Nordic Ware

“If you’re working for the benefit of the neighborhood, you need to identify, understand and measure the problem. Then, you can do things to improve the situation. TRI provides us a tool — that information that we need desperately in order to move anything forward.” – Wendy Menken, board president of a neighborhood association in Minnesota

The Aspen Institute called TRI one of the ten biggest ways EPA has improved America.

There’s plenty of data to support these great statements. One of the best indicators of the TRI Program’s success is the steady and significant decline in releases since 1987 – the first full year of data on toxic releases. A great example is the decreasing trend in air releases.

Air Emissions Grahic

 

Find out more about the power of TRI data and the 30th Anniversary.

Happy 30th anniversary to one of EPA’s finest programs – one that has made such a positive difference in fulfilling our Agency’s mission to protect human health and the environment!

Editor’s Note: The views expressed here are intended to explain EPA policy. They do not change anyone’s rights or obligations.

Please share this post. However, please don’t change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don’t attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

Emergency Preparedness and Response

Chemical Emergency Overview

chemical-emergency-prepareThe CDC has a key role in protecting the public’s health in an emergency involving the release of a chemical that could harm people’s health. This page provides information to help people be prepared to protect themselves during and after such an event.

What chemical emergencies are

A chemical emergency occurs when a hazardous chemical has been released and the release has the potential for harming people’s health. Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack.

Where hazardous chemicals come from

Some chemicals that are hazardous have been developed by military organizations for use in warfare. Examples are nerve agents such as sarin and VX, mustards such as sulfur mustards and nitrogen mustards, and choking agents such as phosgene. It might be possible for terrorists to get these chemical warfare agents and use them to harm people.chemical-emergency-warfare-biological-weapons

Many hazardous chemicals are used in industry (for example, chlorine, ammonia, and benzene). Others are found in nature (for example, poisonous plants).

Some could be made from everyday items such as household cleaners. These types of hazardous chemicals also could be obtained and used to harm people, or they could be accidentally released.

Types and categories of hazardous chemicals

Scientists often categorize hazardous chemicals by the type of chemical or by the effects a chemical would have on people exposed to it. The categories/types used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are as follows:

  • Biotoxins—poisons that come from plants or animals
  • Blister agents/vesicants—chemicals that severely blister the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin on contact
  • Blood agents—poisons that affect the body by being absorbed into the blood
  • Caustics (acids)—chemicals that burn or corrode people’s skin, eyes, and mucus membranes (lining of the nose, mouth, throat, and lungs) on contact
  • Choking/lung/pulmonary agents—chemicals that cause severe irritation or swelling of the respiratory tract (lining of the nose and throat, lungs)
  • Incapacitating agents—drugs that make people unable to think clearly or that cause an altered state of consciousness (possibly unconsciousness)
  • Long-acting anticoagulants—poisons that prevent blood from clotting properly, which can lead to uncontrolled bleeding
  • Metals—agents that consist of metallic poisons
  • Nerve agents—highly poisonous chemicals that work by preventing the nervous system from working properly
  • Organic solvents—agents that damage the tissues of living things by dissolving fats and oils
  • Riot control agents/tear gas—highly irritating agents normally used by law enforcement for crowd control or by individuals for protection (for example, mace)
  • Toxic alcohols—poisonous alcohols that can damage the heart, kidneys, and nervous system
  • Vomiting agents—chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting

Hazardous chemicals by name (A-Z list)

If you know the name of a chemical but aren’t sure what category it would be in, you can look for the chemical by name on the A–Z List of Chemical Agents.

Protecting yourself if you don’t know what the chemical is

You could protect yourself during a chemical emergency, even if you didn’t know yet what chemical had been released. For general information on protecting yourself, read this Web site’s fact sheets on evacuation, sheltering in place, and personal cleaning and disposal of contaminated clothing.

Basic information on chemical emergencies

Basic chemical emergency information designed for the public can be found in the general and chemical-specific fact sheets and in the toxicology FAQs on this Web site.

In-depth information on chemical emergencies

Chemical emergency information designed for groups such as first responders, clinicians, laboratorians, and public health practitioners can be found in the case definitions, toxic syndrome descriptions, toxicological profiles, medical management guidelines, emergency response cards, First Responders page, and Laboratory Information page.

For more information…

For more information about chemical emergencies, you can visit the following websites: