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Know and Understand Chemical Emergencies

Chemical Emergencies

A chemical emergency occurs when a hazardous chemical has been released and the release has the potential for harming people's health. Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack.


A chemical attack is the planned release of a toxic gas, liquid or solid that can poison people and the environment. A few examples of chemical agents are mustard gas, sarin gas and arsenic.


Possible Signs of a Chemical Threat

  • Many people suffering from watery eyes, twitching, choking, having trouble breathing or losing coordination.
  • Many sick or dead birds, fish or small animals are also cause for suspicion.


If You See Signs of Chemical Attack: Find Clean Air Quickly

  • Try to identify from where the chemical is coming.
  • Take immediate action to get away.
  • If the chemical is inside a building where you are, try get out of the building without passing through the contaminated area.
  • If you cannot get out of the building or find clean air without passing through the area where you see signs of a chemical attack, it may be better to move as far away as possible and shelter-in-place.
  • If you are outside, quickly decide what is the fastest way to find clean air. Consider if you can get out of the area or if you should go inside the closest building and shelter-in-place.


If You Think You Have Been Exposed to a Chemical

  • If your eyes are watering, your skin is stinging and you are having trouble breathing, you may have been exposed to a chemical.
  • If you think you may have been exposed to a chemical, immediately take off your clothes, shower and wash with soap.
  • If a shower is not available, look for a hose, fountain, or any source of water, and wash with soap if possible, being sure not to scrub the chemical into your skin.
  • Seek emergency medical attention.


Types and Categories of Hazardous Chemicals

  • Bio toxins—poisons that come from plants or animals.
  • Blister agents—chemicals that severely blister the eyes, respiratory tract, and skin on contact.
  • Blood agents—poisons that affect the body by being absorbed into the blood.
  • Acids—chemicals that burn or corrode people’s skin, eyes and mucus membranes (lining of the nose, mouth, throat and lungs) on contact.
  • Choking agents—chemicals that cause severe irritation or swelling of the respiratory tract (lining of the nose and throat, lungs).
  • Incapacitating agents—drugs that make people unable to think clearly or that cause an altered state of consciousness (possibly unconsciousness).
  • Long-acting anticoagulants—poisons that prevent blood from clotting properly, which can lead to uncontrolled bleeding.
  • Metals—agents that consist of metallic poisons.
  • Nerve agents—highly poisonous chemicals that work by preventing the nervous system from working properly.
  • Organic solvents—agents that damage the tissues of living things by dissolving fats and oils.
  • Riot control agents/tear gas—highly irritating agents normally used by law enforcement for crowd. control or by individuals for protection (for example, mace)
  • Toxic alcohols—poisonous alcohols that can damage the heart, kidneys and nervous system.
  • Vomiting agents—chemicals that cause nausea and vomiting.


For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and from Ready America.

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