Hazardous Materials

What to Do During a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • If you witness (or smell) a hazardous materials accident, call 911.
  • 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, remember that gases and mists are generally heavier than air. Try to stay upstream; uphill and upwind-hazardous materials can quickly be transported by water and wind. In general, try to go at least 0.5 miles (10 city blocks) from the danger area; for many incidents you will need to go much further.
  • If you are in a motor vehicle, stop and seek shelter in a permanent building if possible. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
  • If asked to evacuate your home, do so immediately. If authorities indicate there is enough time, close all windows, shut vents and turn off attic, heating and air conditioning fans to minimize contamination.
If you are requested to stay indoors (shelter-in-place) rather than evacuate:
  • Follow all instructions given by emergency authorities.
  • Get household members and pets inside as quickly as possible.
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers and as many interior doors as possible.
  • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems.
  • Go into the pre-selected shelter room (the above-ground room with the fewest openings to the outside). Take a battery-powered radio, water, sanitary supplies, a flashlight, and the shelter kit containing plastic sheeting, duct tape, scissors, a towel, and modeling clay or other materials to stuff into cracks. Close doors and windows in the room. Stuff a towel tightly under each door and tape around the sides and top of the door. Cover each window and vent in the room with a single piece of plastic sheeting, taping all around the edges of the sheeting to provide a continuous seal. If there are any cracks or holes in the room, such as those around pipes entering a bathroom, fill them with modeling clay or other similar material.
  • Remain in the room, listening to emergency broadcasts on the radio, until authorities advise you to leave your shelter.
  • If authorities warn of the possibility of an outdoor explosion, close all drapes, curtains, and shades in the room. Stay away from windows to prevent injury from breaking glass.
  • When authorities advise people in your area to leave their shelters, open all doors and windows and turn on air conditioning and ventilation systems.These measures will flush out any chemicals that infiltrated into the building.
  • Schools and other public buildings may institute procedures to shelter in place. If there is a hazardous materials incident and your children are at school, you will probably not be permitted to drive to the school to pick up your children. Even if you go to the school, the doors will probably be locked to keep your children safe. Follow the directions of your local emergency officials.
  • Avoid contact with spilled liquids, airborne mists or condensed solid chemical deposits. Keep your body fully covered to provide some protection. Wear gloves, socks, shoes, pants and long sleeved shirts.
  • Do not eat or drink food or water that may have been contaminated.

What to Do After a Hazardous Materials 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.
  • A person or item that has been exposed to a hazardous chemical may be contaminated and could contaminate other people or items. If you have come in contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals, you should follow decontamination instructions from local authorities.
  • 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.

Other Resources