A chemical emergency occurs when a hazardous chemical has been released and the release has the potential to harm people, animals or the environment.
Chemical releases can be unintentional (industrial accident) or intentional (terrorist attack).
A chemical release could be in the form of a toxic gas, liquid or solid and can be odorless and tasteless. It can have an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (2-48 hours).
Signs of a chemical release may include:
- Many people suffering from watery eyes, twitching, choking, breathing problems, nausea, having a burning sensation in the nose throat and lungs or losing coordination.
- Multiple cases of sick, dying or dead birds, fish or small animals.
Take Protective Measures
Before a Chemical Attack
- Learn more about Sheltering-in-Place during an emergency.
- Make sure you Disaster Supply Kit includes the following:
- A roll of duct tape and scissors
- Plastic for doors, windows and vents for the room where you will shelter–in–place.
During a Chemical Attack
If you are instructed to stay in your home or office building:
- Close doors and windows and turn off all ventilation, including furnaces, air conditioners, vents, and fans.
- Seek shelter in an internal room and take your disaster supply kit.
- Seal the room with duct tape and plastic sheeting.
- Listen to your radio for instructions from authorities.
If you are caught in or near a contaminated area, you should:
- Move away immediately in a direction upwind of the source.
- Find shelter as quickly as possible.
If You Think You Have Been Exposed to a Chemical Attack
Most chemical agents can penetrate clothing and are absorbed rapidly through the skin. Therefore, the most important and most effective decontamination for any chemical exposure is decontamination done within the first minute or two after exposure.
In most cases, emergency coordinators will let you know if a dangerous chemical has been released and will tell you what to do.
Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so.
A person affected by a chemical agent requires immediate medical attention from a professional. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate yourself and assist in decontaminating others.
- Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents.
- Remove all clothing and other items in contact with the body. Contaminated clothing should be cut off to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal it.
- Decontaminate hands using soap and water. Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them and then rinse and dry.
- Flush eyes with water.
- Gently wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water.
- Decontaminate other body areas likely to have been contaminated. Blot (do not swab or scrape) with a cloth soaked in soapy water and rinse with clear water.
- Change into uncontaminated clothes. Clothing stored in drawers or closets is likely to be uncontaminated.
- Proceed to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment.
For more information on chemical agents visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at: www.cdc.gov.
Updated on: May 16, 2019