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Hazardous materials –Regulations, Reporting and Compliance

Hazardous materials (HazMat) are substances that pose a potential risk to life, health or property if they are released. They can be in the form of solids, gases or liquids and can include materials that are flammable, radioactive, explosive, oxidizing, asphyxiating, biohazardous, toxic, allergenic, pathogenic or corrosive. Spills can occur during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal.

All jurisdictions have a Local Emergency Planning Committee that identifies local industrial hazardous materials and keeps the community informed of the potential risks. Contact your local emergency management office to find out where hazardous chemicals are located in your area, as well as information about your Local Emergency Planning Committee.

Hazardous materials officers typically receive many notifications of hazmat incidents a year. Of these, spills or releases of flammable liquids are the most common. Fixed facilities, like industrial plants, highways and waterways are where most of the incidents occur.

Homes, businesses and schools located near the site of a hazardous materials spill or release are likely to be unaffected unless the substance is airborne and poses a threat to areas outside the accident site. Local emergency officials would order an immediate evacuation of areas that could potentially be affected. Special equipment might be used to decontaminate people, objects or buildings affected.  In some instances return to the affected area may take days.

During a hazardous materials incident:

If you see or smell a hazardous materials incident, call 9-1-1.

If you hear a warning siren, listen to the local radio or television station for further information.

Stay away from the incident site to minimize the risk of contamination.

If you are outside during an incident, try to move upstream.  Gases and mists are generally heavier than air and hazardous materials can quickly be transported by water and wind. In general move at least one-half mile from the danger area or evacuate to where local authorities tell you to.

If you are in a motor vehicle, stop and find shelter in a permanent building if possible. If you must remain in your vehicle, keep the windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater. 

If asked to evacuate, do so immediately. If authorities indicate there is enough time, close all windows, shut vents and turn off heating and air conditioning fans to minimize contamination.

If you are told to stay indoors:
·         Follow all instructions given by emergency authorities.
·         Get all employees inside as quickly as possible.
·         Close and lock all exterior doors and window.
·         Close vents and as many interior doors as possible.
·         Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems.

Go into an above ground room with the fewest openings to the outside. Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide buildup for up to five hours. If you see large amounts of debris in the air, or if local authorities say the air is badly contaminated, you may want to seal the room.

·         Take a battery-powered radio, water, a flashlight, plastic sheeting, duct tape and scissors into the shelter room.

·         Close doors and windows in the room and seal the room using the plastic sheeting and duct tape and be sure to tape around the sides, bottom and top of the door.

·         Cover each window and vent in the room with a single piece of plastic sheeting, taping all around the edges of the sheeting to provide a continuous seal.

·         If there are any cracks or holes in the room, such as those around pipes entering a bathroom, seal them with duct tape.

Remain in the room and listen to a local radio or television station until you hear that authorities advise you to leave your shelter. Local officials are unlikely to recommend that you stay in a sealed room for more than 2-3 hours because the effectiveness of such sheltering diminishes with time as the contaminated outside air gradually seeps into the shelter and the concentration of life-supporting oxygen in the air inside the shelter decreases.

After a hazardous materials incident:

When authorities advise people in your area to leave their shelters, open all doors and windows and turn on the air conditioning and ventilation systems. These measures will flush out any chemicals that infiltrated the building.

Be aware that a person or item that has been exposed to a hazardous chemical might be contaminated and could contaminate other people or items. Anyone who comes into contact or is exposed to hazardous chemicals should:

·         Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. Depending on the chemical, they might be advised to take a thorough shower, or they might be advised to stay away from water and follow another procedure. Get medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible.

·         If medical help is not immediately available and you think you might be contaminated, remove all of your clothing and shower thoroughly (unless local authorities advise otherwise). Change into fresh, loose clothing and get medical help as soon as possible.

·         Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Call local authorities to find out about proper disposal.

·         Advise everyone who comes into contact with you that you might have been exposed to a toxic substance.