Hazardous materials, more commonly referred to as chemicals, are used regularly in our daily lives. A hazardous material is any solid, liquid, or gas that can cause harm to humans and other living organisms. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely. They are used to grow our food, clean our homes, fuel our cars, and purify our water, which means we have to be careful about how we use and store these chemicals. Read the information below to learn more about the proper usage and storage techniques.
Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poison and radioactive materials. Varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States ─ from industrial plants to dry cleaning establishments or gardening supply stores. Do you know what, if any, facilities exist in your community?
Chemicals can also be hazardous to the environment if used or released improperly. These materials are transported daily by highways, railroads, waterways, and pipelines. Colorado has a diverse network of roadways that are authorized to transport them. These restricted routes are coordinated through the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Colorado State Patrol.
Accidents can occur during the production, storage, transportation, use or disposal of hazardous materials. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants, which is why it's important that you're aware of the chemical facilities in your area. Explore the information below to learn more about hazardous materials and the steps you can take to stay safe.
- Before A HazMat Release
- 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 LEPCs or click here to contact the LEPCs in Colorado.
- Be aware of what hazards may exist in your community.
Household Chemical Product Information
- Keep potential poisons in their original containers.
- Do not use food containers such as cups or bottles to store household and chemical products.
- Store food and household chemical products in separate areas. Mistaking one for the other could cause a serious poisoning.
- Never mix household chemical products together. Mixing chemicals could cause a poisonous gas.
- Turn on fans and open windows when using household chemical products.
- Wear protective clothing, including long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, shoes and gloves, when spraying pesticides and other chemicals. Pesticides can be absorbed through the skin and can be extremely poisonous.
- Discard old or outdated household chemical products. First aid instructions on product containers may be incorrect or outdated.
- During a HazMat Release
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.
- 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 individuals and people with access and functional needs.
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 caught 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 have been 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.
- 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.
- After A HazMat Release
- Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
- 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.
- Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
- Help a neighbor who may require special assistance ─ infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
- Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
- 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.
- More HazMat Release Information
References, Resources and More Information:
Banner photo courtesy of FEMA/Win Henderson