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Campus Preparedness > Emergency Tips

Hazardous Materials Tips

From industrial chemicals and toxic waste to household detergents and air fresheners, hazardous materials are part of our everyday lives.

Affecting urban, suburban and rural areas, hazardous materials incidents can range from a chemical spill on a highway to groundwater contamination by naturally occurring methane gas.

Hazardous materials are substances, which, because of their chemical, physical or biological nature, pose a potential risk to life, health or property if they are released. Hazards can exist during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal.

What To Do in a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • If you witness a hazardous materials accident, call 911, your local emergency notification number or the fire department.
  • If you hear a warning signal, listen to local radio or television stations for further information. Follow instructions carefully.
  • Stay away from the incident site to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • If you are caught outside during an incident, try to stay upstream, uphill and upwind — hazardous materials can quickly be transported by water and wind. In general, try to go at least one-half mile (10 city blocks) from the danger area; for many incidents you will need to go much further.
  • If you are in a car, close windows and shut off ventilation.
  • If you are asked to evacuate, do so immediately.
  • If local officials say there is time, close all windows, shut vents and turn off attic fans to minimize contamination.
  • If you are requested to stay indoors rather than evacuate:
    • Strictly follow all instructions given by emergency authorities.
    • To reduce the possibility of toxic vapors entering your home, seal all entry routes as efficiently as possible. Close and lock the windows and doors. Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels and duct tape or similar thick tape.
    • Seal any gaps around window air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fan grilles and stove and dryer vents with tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper or aluminum wrap.
    • Close all fireplace dampers.
    • Close as many internal doors as possible.
    • If authorities warn of an outdoor explosion, close all drapes, curtains and shades. Stay away from windows to prevent injury from breaking glass.
    • Turn off all ventilation systems, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents and fans.
    • Set all 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.
    • If you suspect that gas or vapors have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel.
    • Remain in protected, interior areas of the building where toxic vapors are reduced, and keep your radio with you.
  • Avoid contact with any spilled liquid materials, airborne mist or condensed solid chemical deposit. Keep your body fully covered and wear gloves, socks and shoes, although these measures may offer minimal protection.
  • Do not eat or drink any food or water that may have been contaminated.
  • If you need to stay indoors, fill the bathtub (sterilize it first) and large containers with water. Be prepared to turn off the main water intake valve in case authorities advise you to do so.

What To Do After an Incident

  • Do not return home until local authorities say it is safe.
  • Upon returning home, open windows, vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  • If you have come in contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, you should:
    • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities.
    • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms that may be related to the hazardous materials release.
    • If medical help is not immediately available and you think you might be contaminated, remove all of your clothing and shower thoroughly (unless local authorities say the chemical is water reactive and advise you to do otherwise). Change into fresh, loose, warm clothing and seek medical help as soon as possible.
    • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers without allowing them to contact other materials, and 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 property.
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.
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