Chemicals are all around us. They are found in our environment form the water we drink to the food we eat and the air we breathe. In moderate amounts, certain chemicals are not harmful to our health. However, some chemicals released even in small amounts can be toxic or lethal and have long lasting repercussions to the environment and health of humans and wildlife. What would you do if you were involved in a community event where a large chemical spill has occurred and how would you find information to protect yourself and your family?
Hazardous chemicals spills and accidents often occur during their handling, production, storage, transportation and disposal. It could happen at home, where we store and use a considerable amount of household products that are chemical hazards. Chemicals are handled in the workplace, at factories, dry-cleaning, at University chemical labs, at landfills; and even at hospitals to name a few examples. A chemical spill could happen on the road or out at sea. According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), there are currently around 4.5 million facilities in the United States that use, store and produce hazardous materials.
Hazardous materials technicians, first responders and workers trained for HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) clean-up operations are trained individuals who access contaminated sites or directly handle hazardous materials and clean up after an event. They have been taught how to respond to chemical emergencies or clean up hazardous waste sites. They will wear personal protective equipment depending on the type of hazardous material and will receive thorough training related to the hazards found on the site.
However, if you’re a civilian who happened to be caught up in a hazardous materials incident what can you do to stay safe? There are plenty of resources out there when a chemical emergency occurs. If you live near a highly hazardous chemical process facility they will have informed the community of shelter in place options and what to do if an emergency occurs. They may have alarm systems within the community to alert residents when an incident is occurring so that they can shelter in place. Use state and federal resources and websites to find out also what to do in the event of a chemical spill. Recently there was a large chemical waste spill in West Virginia that effected over 300,000 resident’s drinking water. State and local agencies will usually issue warning in events like this so stayed tuned to your radio, television or the internet. If you have to shelter in place be prepared and know how to do it.
Here are some “shelter in place” tips from the CDC:
OSHAcampus.com offers HAZWOPER training for general site workers who respond to hazardous materials incidents and occupational exposure to hazardous materials. Visit our dedicated course page for HAZWOPER training to know more about how you can enroll in the course.