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Hazardous Materials Preparedness

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From Clatsop County, OR Emergency Management

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.

Many hazardous materials do not have a taste or an odor.  Some materials can be detected because they cause physical reactions such as watering eyes or nausea.  Some hazardous materials exist beneath the surface of the ground and can be recognized by an oil or foam-like appearance.

Have disaster supplies on hand

Develop an emergency communication plan

In case family members are separated from one another during a hazardous materials accident (this is a real possibility during the day when adults are at work and children are at school), develop a plan for reuniting after the disaster.

Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact."  After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance.  Make sure everyone knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.

If caught at the scene of an accident

Assisting accident victims

Don't try to care for victims of a hazardous materials accident until the substance has been identified and authorities indicate it is safe to go near victims.  Then you can move victims to fresh air and call for emergency medical care.  Remove contaminated clothing and shoes and place them in a plastic bag.  Cleanse victims that have come in contact with chemicals by immediately pouring cold water over the skin or eyes for at least 15 minutes, unless authorities instruct you not to use water on the particular chemical involved.

If asked to stay indoors ("In-Place Sheltering")

If asked to evacuate

Authorities will decide if evacuation is necessary based primarily on the type and amount of chemical released and how long it is expected to affect an area.  Other considerations are the length of time it should take to evacuate the area, weather conditions, and the time of day.

Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance: infants, elderly people and people with disabilities.

After

You have the right to know...

The Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act requires that detailed information about hazardous substances in or near communities be available at the public's request.  The law provides stiff penalties for companies that fail to comply and allows citizens to file lawsuits against companies and government agencies to force them to obey the law.

Did you know...

Hazardous materials warning placards

The U.S. Department of Transportation uses a labeling and placarding system for identifying the types of hazardous materials that are transported along the nation's highways, railways, and waterways.  This system enables local emergency officials to identify the nature and potential health threat of chemicals being transported into your community.  Were a chemical accident to occur in your community, local emergency officials and the fire department would be able to determine the proper emergency response procedures for the situation by the type of placard or warning label.