Hazardous Materials

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A hazardous material (hazmat) is any solid, liquid, or gas that can harm people, other living organisms, property, or the environment. Chemical manufacturers are an obvious source for hazardous materials, but they are found in many other locations as well - service stations, hospitals, and waste sites. It is estimated that 4.5 million facilities in the U.S. use, store, or manufacture hazardous materials, whether they are a farm supply store or a water treatment facility.

Spills or releases can happen during production, storage, transportation, use, or disposal. Incidents can occur at a “fixed facility,” such as an industrial plant. Also common are railroads, highways, pipelines and waterways. Those located near 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.

Federal, State and local regulations, combine to minimize the risk to the public and the environment. You can protect yourself by learning about hazardous materials, possible risks in your community, and reviewing the information below.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident
  • Listen to local radio and television for information and instructions.
  • Follow the instructions carefully.
  • Stay away from the area to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • Remember that some toxic chemicals are odorless.
  • If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • If you are outside stay upstream, uphill and upwind. Try to go at least one-half mile (8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists, or solid chemical deposits.
  • If you are in a vehicle in town and slow traffic, 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 on a highway and can move away from the site quickly do not stop.
  • If outside on foot, stop and seek shelter in a permanent building.
  • If you are instructed to stay indoors:
    • Go into your pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside.
    • Seal the room by covering each window, door and vent using plastic sheeting and duct tape.
    • Use material to fill cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes and electrical conduits.
    • 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 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.
After a Hazardous Materials Incident
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  • 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. Depending on the chemistry of the hazardous material, you may be instructed to take a thorough shower, or you may be warned 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. Call local authorities to find out about proper disposal.
  • Advise everyone who comes in contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and buildings if necessary.






The Hazard-Specific Information section was created using information from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and American Red Cross.