Chemical Hazards

Chemicals are found everywhere. They cleanse drinking water, raise crop production and make household chores easier. Chemicals also can be dangerous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly.

Dangerous materials in many forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects and property damage. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are often used and stored in homes. These products are also shipped daily on the nation's highways, railroads, waterways and pipelines.

Chemical dangers can occur when chemicals are being made, stored or moved, used or trashed. Chemical makers are one source of dangerous materials. There are many others, including service stations, hospitals and hazardous materials waste sites.

Varying amounts of dangerous materials are made, used or stored at places across the state from industrial plants to local dry cleaners or gardening supply stores. These materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. They are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.

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Before a Hazardous Materials Incident

Many areas have Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) whose jobs include collecting information about hazardous materials in the area and giving it to the public upon request. The LEPCs also are tasked with creating an emergency plan to get ready for and respond to chemical emergencies in the area. Contact the LEPCs to find out more about chemical hazards and what needs to be done to lower your risk from these materials. Your local emergency management office can give contact information on the LEPCs.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident

Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information. Follow the orders carefully! You should stay away from the area to lower the risk of contamination. Some toxic chemicals have no odor.

If asked to leave:

Do so immediately. Listen to local media for information on evacuation routes, short-term shelters and procedures. Follow the recommended evacuation routes. Shortcuts may not be safe. Leave at once. If you have time, close all windows, shut all vents, and turn off attic fans. Take your emergency kit with you. Help your neighbors who may require special assistance--infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs.

If outside:

Stay upstream, uphill and upwind! Try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Move away from the accident scene. Keep others away. Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to breathe in gases, fumes and smoke. If you can, cover mouth with a cloth while leaving the area. Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.

If in a car:

Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed. Shut off the air conditioner and heater.

If asked to stay indoors:

Bring pets inside. Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers and as many inside doors as possible. Turn off air conditioners and airing systems.

In large buildings, set airing systems to 100 percent recirculation. This means no outside air will be drawn into the building. If this is not possible, airing 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. Use duct tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper or aluminum wrap to seal gaps. 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. Try not to eat or drink any food or water that may be contaminated.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

The following are guidelines for after a hazardous materials event.

  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to leave or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home.
  • Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
  • Follow cleansing orders from local authorities. You may be told to take a thorough shower. You may be told to stay away from water and follow another order.
  • Seek medical care 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.
  • Tell 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 extra help in emergency situations.
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe.
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.
  • Report any remaining fumes or other hazards to your local emergency services office.

More Information

More information on chemical hazards can be found at:

Listen to Local Officials

Learn about the emergency plans that have been made in your area by your state and local government. In any emergency, always listen to the orders given by local emergency management officials.