Hazardous materials, commonly referred to as HAZMAT, are easily found within the HOTCOG region. From our households to large industrial sites, chemicals and other substances play a major role in our lives. Some of these chemicals can irritate the skin, while others can lead to respiratory problems or death. Aside from these chemicals, a number of other potential hazards exist, including biological, nuclear, and radiological hazards.
In our homes, we use a number of chemicals for different purposes. From creating works of art and crafting to cleaning our homes, household chemicals serve a purpose. However, these chemicals, like all other chemicals can be dangerous, especially if certain measures are not taken to protect your home and family. Bleach, ammonia, paint thinners, and fuel are the leading causes of household chemical accidents. As a matter of fact, household chemical accidents make up the majority of hazardous material incidents within the United States. However, using the acronym LIES, you can reduce your risk to household chemicals.
- Limit – limit the amount of hazardous materials in the home.
- Isolate – store hazardous materials in a separate, locked cabinet whenever possible.
- Eliminate – properly dispose of hazardous materials as soon as they are no longer needed.
- Separate – keep chemicals that may react with each other separate (such as oxidizers and flammables or bleach and ammonia)
Household Chemical Safety Tips
- Read the emergency instructions on chemical containers to make sure you understand the risks of using the chemical.
- Always store chemicals in a safe place that is out of reach of children and pets.
- Never mix chemicals together.
- Never use chemicals near an open flame or while smoking.
- Only use chemicals in well-ventilated areas.
- Keep the Poison Control number (1-800-222-1222) near all telephones in case of an emergency.
CBRN – A Large-Scale Threat
Thousands of chemicals are used to create useful things like window cleaners, laundry soap, and craft glue. Many of these chemicals are even used to make flat-screen televisions and to keep swimming pools in a healthy condition. In reality, everywhere around us, chemicals have played a role in the manufacturing of items that we use on a daily basis. However, industrial chemicals pose a threat to health and safety and can even be used as a weapon if large quantities are available.
In our region, we are quite familiar with influenza (the flu) and its effects. We are also familiar with how a single cough releases million of tiny, invisible germs into the air, helping to spread illnesses like the flu. Biological agents work the same way. Microscopic toxins or germs can be introduced into the air with the intent of making a large number of people sick. These biological agents damage the food supply by harming crops and livestock. A few of the most commonly known biological agents are smallpox, anthrax, and botulism, however thousands of agents exist in the world.
Nuclear and Radiological Threats
More than 15% of the electricity used in the United States is generated from nuclear power plants. Healthcare facilities may utilize nuclear and radiological medicine to evaluate and treat certain illnesses. While a nuclear or radiological incident is a possibility, such an incident would likely be from an industrial accident. However, it is possible that these materials can be weaponized by terrorists.
Transportation of Hazardous Materials
Each day, massive quantities of hazardous materials travel down the roadways of our region. From smaller state highways to the large interstate highways, hazardous materials are present and moving. The fuel and antifreeze in our vehicle is hazardous. Large tanker trucks may contain hazardous materials. And who would have thought that milk would be a hazardous material? The majority of the time, hazardous materials make it safely to their intended destination. Once in a while, however, an accident happens. The release of hazardous materials is dangerous, no matter what environment the release occurs in.
Hazardous Materials Safety
Follow these tips to stay safe if you encounter hazardous materials:
- Be aware of your surroundings.
- Keep an emergency supply kit ready.
- Identify an internal room in your home that you can shelter-in-place and protect yourself from contaminated air.
- Follow directions from officials about sheltering-in-place or evacuating.
- Listen to your radio or television for instructions from officials. Tune to local stations rather than syndicated cable channels.
- Minimize exposure to the hazardous material. Time and distance are key: hazardous materials often lose their effectiveness the farther you are from the incident and the longer the incident has been exposed to open air.