A chemical spill has just happened! What do I do?

Caught in the Open?

Improvise respiratory protection by placing a handkerchief, towel, or similar item snugly over the nose and mouth until indoors or away from the chemicals.

Exposure: If you were unable to protect yourself during sheltering in place, and believe you might have been exposed to the chemical, take steps to decontaminate. The emergency responders will have the equipment and procedures to assist you. Cooperate with them. A decontamination will likely require you to shed all or most of your clothing and be showered with water, probably out in the open. Although it will be awkward, it is easier to be embarrassed than to risk harm from the chemicals. No one has ever died from blushing, but hazardous chemicals have killed and injured many.

Do not put contaminated clothing back on. Change into other clean clothes or wrap a clean sheet or blanket around you.

You will want to wash your eyes out with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes if they have been exposed to a corrosive agent to prevent blindness or injury to the eye. Assist children and others in this also.

The operators of any facility having a chemical spill of Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS) have certain responsibilities during the emergency, including providing information to physicians and emergency responders about the adverse health effects expected and treatment methods. Employers must also provide training to their own employees about this information, according to OSHA rules and regulations. A written follow-up report is required from the facility within thirty days, if not sooner, if enough of the dangerous chemical has been released to the environment. This information is quite extensive. Written Follow-Up Report

It is always helpful to determine well in advance of a chemical spill whether you are living, working, or traveling near a facility that stores substantial quantities of chemicals on-site. Take advantage of your Right-To-Know to be prepared. If you are near such a facility, take the time to check with your LEPC to see if the facility has reported any chemicals and prepared an emergency plan. See if the worst chemical spill that could happen at the facility would produce a plume of chemicals that could reach your home or where you would be.

Many facilities that are required by the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) to report chemicals stored on-site will not have enough of these chemicals to cause a risk beyond the boundaries of the facility. Facility operators can make decisions to minimize or reduce the amounts of chemicals on-site, or changes processes and practices at the facility to reduce or minimize the amounts on-site.

Churches, Block Watches, and other community groups can be instrumental in raising awareness of Shelter-In-Place procedures, and they can also help by working with the local emergency response agencies to prepare an evacuation plan and notification procedures.


Railroads, highways, pipelines or waterways are everywhere. What if a huge tanker truck skids, jackknifes, and overturns? Do you know what to do?

Be alert for a white or colored cloud hugging the ground. Unless there are foggy conditions, this might be a chemical cloud. When in doubt, do not enter a cloud of anything hugging the ground.

If you are in a vehicle and cannot drive away from the chemical spill, shelter in the vehicle. Stay in your vehicle and roll up the windows and turn off ventilation fans. Close it up to protect your air supply because it takes very little of certain chemicals to affect you. Turn off the motor. If there are flammable gases, a running engine could ignite them. Corrosive gases could destroy or damage the engine if it is running. Watch for emergency responders and follow their directions without hesitation.

If there is time, drive away from the plume. Get well away and stay alert for clouds or wind-driven gases that could follow you. Drive into the wind. Bear in mind that some chemicals are invisible in the air. Watch for emergency responders and follow their directions without hesitation. Do not block traffic. Emergency responders have trained and prepared for such an incident, and they will help you, but it will take time for them to get there. You need to protect yourself for the first few minutes.

Transportation accidents involving dangerous chemicals generally pose a much higher risk than a chemical spill or accident at a facility, because the containment systems and facility staff will not be in place to quickly respond to the emergency. These transportation accidents could happen anytime and anywhere along a transportation route, and are difficult to prepare for.

You have a Right-To-Know about the transportation routes of chemicals entering and leaving your community.

In the event of a chemical release, the danger will often pass or dissipate quickly, within minutes. But with many industrial chemicals, a one-time exposure can have devastating and long-lasting health effects, so any exposure should be avoided.


Preparing in Advance

It will take too long to assemble the items let alone remember what goes into your Family Safety Kit when there is an emergency. Have a small box ready to go and filled with the essential safety items at all times. Your Family Safety Kit should contain the following:

Using Your Five Senses

You should always be alert to danger. With proper knowledge, you can decide what is the best plan for you. A big part of your Safety Plan is figuring out what you would do if you:

SENSE something
SMELL a sharp odor
SEE a cloud hugging the ground
TASTE some bitter gas
HEAR or FEEL an explosion
Potential dangers of chemicals are everywhere.
Use your five

It is always a good idea to avoid circumstances that could put people at risk from exposure to chemicals. If the odor of smoke or chemicals is in the air, immediately consider if there may be a danger and take steps to protect your home and people. It is natural to be curious when smoke or chemical odors are seen or smelled, but even house fires can release dangerous smoke, and industrial fires or chemical releases can be even more dangerous. So unless you know, stay away from the smoke and odors. Until you are certain of the source of the odors and smoke, initiate Shelter-In-Place Steps 1,2, and 3 and call the fire department.

Step 1 Move inside a building (house, apartment, or church) immediately.
Step 2 Close and lock all windows and doors.
Step 3 Turn off all ventilation systems.

You may be the first to see or suspect a chemical spill. If in doubt, report it immediately.

If you are reporting an emergency to fire or police departments, dial 9-1-1, or the emergency numbers for the police and fire departments, and state the following:

  1. Location of emergency (street and city).
  2. Nature of emergency (what person or things are involved, extent, causes).
  3. Location you are calling from.
  4. Phone number you are calling from.

Contact your http://rtk.net/data/lepc/lepc.html and your local emergency care facilities before an incident occurs to determine whether the local emergency care facility near you is properly prepared, equipped and staffed to handle emergency chemical exposure. Not every emergency care facility is properly trained or equiped to handle chemical emergencies. It is better to find this out before an emergency occurs.

More Information About Toxic Effects

For more information about health effects of chemicals, try the following government-sponsored websites:

healthfinder - Department of Health and Human Services' gateway to medical journals, news, databases, libraries, state agencies, educational sites, organizations, and support groups www.healthfinder.gov

National Institutes of Health - federal health information resources, clinical-trial databases, consumer health publications, and an index of health conditions being investigated by the government. www.nih.gov

National Library of Medicine features MedLine, a free database of citations and abstracts from 3,900 medical journals. http://www.nlm.nih.gov