Hazardous Materials

HazMat ImageHazardous materials are found everywhere. They purify drinking water, increase crop production and simplify household chores. However, hazardous materials can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly.

Hazardous materials in various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects and property damage. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely. These products are also shipped daily on the nation’s highways, railroads, waterways and pipelines. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal. Chemical manufacturers are one source of hazardous materials, but there are many others, including service stations, hospitals and hazardous materials waste sites.

Varying quantities of hazardous materials are manufactured, used or stored at facilities across the state from industrial plants to local dry cleaners or gardening supply stores. Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation accidents or because of chemical accidents in plants.

Before a Hazardous Materials Incident

The Guilford County Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) is tasked with the responsibilities of collecting information about hazardous materials in the community and making this information available to the public upon request. The LEPC is also tasked with developing an emergency plan to prepare for and respond to chemical emergencies in the community. Contact the Guilford County LEPC to find out more about chemical hazards and what needs to be done to minimize your risk from these materials.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident

Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information and follow the instructions carefully! You should stay away from the area to minimize the risk of contamination. Remember that some toxic chemicals are odorless.

If asked to evacuate:

Do so immediately. Stay tuned to local media for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures. Follow the recommended evacuation routes; shortcuts may not be safe. Leave at once. If you have time, minimize contamination in the house by closing all windows, shutting all vents, and turning off attic fans. Take your emergency kit with you. Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance–infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs.

If outside:

Stay upstream, uphill and upwind! Try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area. Move away from the accident scene and keep others away. Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to inhale gases, fumes and smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth while leaving the area. Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.

If in a car:

Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building. If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.

If asked to stay indoors:

Bring pets inside. 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. In large buildings, set ventilation systems to 100 percent recirculation so that no outside air is drawn into the building. If this is not possible, ventilation systems should be turned off. Go into the pre-selected shelter room. This room should be above ground and have the fewest openings to the outside. Seal gaps under doorways and windows with wet towels or plastic sheeting and duct tape.

Seal gaps around window and air conditioning units, bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans, and stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting, wax paper or aluminum wrap. Use material to fill cracks and holes in the room, such as those around pipes. If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel. Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

The following are guidelines for the period following a hazardous materials incident:

  • Go to a designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home. Text SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA) to find the nearest shelter in your area (example: shelter 12345).
  • Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
  • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. You may be advised to take a thorough shower or you may be advised to stay away from water and follow another procedure.
  • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible.
  • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Do not allow them to contact other materials. Call local authorities to find out about proper disposal.
  • Advise everyone who comes in to contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
  • Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
  • Help a neighbor who may require special assistance – infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs. People who care for them or who have large families may need additional assistance in emergency situations.
  • Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to 9-1-1.

More Information on Hazardous Materials

Additional information on chemical hazards can be found via: