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
What to do Before a Hazardous
Many communities have Local Emergency Planning Committees
(LEPCs) whose responsibilities include collecting information
about hazardous materials in the community and making this
information available to the public upon request. The LEPCs
also are tasked with developing an emergency plan to prepare
for and respond to chemical emergencies in the community. Ways
the public will be notified and actions the public must take in
the event of a release are part of the plan.
Contact the LEPCs to find out more about chemical hazards
and what needs to be done to minimize the risk to individuals
and the community from these materials. Your local emergency
management office can provide contact information on the
You should add the following supplies to your disaster
- Plastic sheeting
- Duct tape
What to do During a Hazardous
Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed
information and instructions. Follow the instructions
carefully. You should stay away from the area to minimize the
risk of contamination. Remember that some toxic chemicals are
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
- Take pre-assembled disaster supplies.
- Remember to help your neighbors who may require special
assistance--infants, elderly people and people with
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 inside 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
- 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
- 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
- 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.
Shelter Safety for Sealed Rooms
Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide
sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide build-up for up to
five hours, assuming a normal breathing rate while resting.
However, local officials are unlikely to recommend the
public shelter 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.
At this point, evacuation from the area is the better
protective action to take.
Also you should ventilate the shelter when the emergency has
passed to avoid breathing contaminated air still inside the
What to do After a Hazardous
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
- 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
- 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.
Much of the info on this page was taken from FEMA's web site
which can be referenced at: