Monday, August 12, 2013

Survive A Hazmat Incident

When a train pulling cars filled with flammable and corrosive materials went off the tracks recently in Louisiana, more than 50 families were evacuated, forced out of their homes to save their lives.
If you become aware of an incident involving hazardous materials, monitor radio or TV stations to learn what's happening. 
Now, you might think this type of hazardous materials incident can't happen to you but, before jumping to that conclusion, let's take a look at the numbers. According to FEMA, "varying quanitites of hazardous materials are manufactured, used, or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities in the United States. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of accidents in manufacturing facilities."

The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that over the past 10 years "there has been a major growth in the amount of hazmats transported on a daily basis, resulting in a high level of risk."

In total, there are more than 3.1 billion tons of hazmats transported annually across the county by rail or roadway. By far (94%) is carried by truck. Five percent is transported by air. And about 1% goes by rail, pipeline or ship.

So, what do you think the chances are that an accident might happen in your community, resulting in the release of hazardous materials into the atmosphere, or on the ground, or into the waterways? Would it surprise you to learn that on average, there are more than 15,000 hazmat incidents reported in the U.S., resulting in more than $50-million in damage per year.

The big question is: What are you supposed to do to survive a hazmat incident? Here are the steps to take:
  • Follow instructions issued by authorities.
  • Stay away from the incident area, to minimize the risk of exposure and contamination.
  • The general rule is "Up" — stay upstream of materials released into a waterway; stay uphill (because these materials are generally heavier than air, so they sink to low ground); and stay upwind. 
  • If you're driving, and must remain in your vehicle, roll up windows, turn off the air conditioner or heater, and close vents. Try to drive out of the area to a safe zone.
  • If you're indoors, close and lock all exterior doors, so people won't open the doors and allow the hazardous materials inside. Close windows and all vents and fireplace flues. Use plastic sheeting and duct tape to seal all doors, windows, vents and ducts. Use plastic sheeting to seal over all electrical wall outlets, cable TV, and phone line outlets. Turn off ventilation systems that might bring in outside air. Seal cracks and voids around pipes or other openings through the walls.
  • Remain in place until given the "all clear" by authorities.

  • If you inadvertently come in contact with hazardous materials, follow decontamination instructions issued by authorities. Depending on the chemicals involved, you might be instructed to shower — or you might be instructed to stay away from water completely. Don't assume that the right thing to do is hop in the shower, because some chemical agents can be activated by water.

    If you experience symptoms that you suspect are the result of exposure, seek medical help as soon as possible.


    1. What if the water comes from my own water barrels?

    2. Good question. Depends on where the water came from before it landed in your water barrel. Airborne contaminants can pollute water that you catch and store in the barrel. It's good to have some water already stored up in sealed containers, to serve as emergency backup in the event that normal water sources become contaminated or non-existent. Some hazardous materials can hang around for a long time, so it's also good to have an evacuation plan, in case you decide to leave the area for a while.

    3. I don't have indoor plumbing here so all my water is in sealed containers.