A hazardous material is a material that, in any quantity, poses a threat
to life, health or property. More than four billion tons of materials
classified as hazardous are shipped throughout the United States each
Hazardous materials commonly shipped in the United States include:explosives (materials that combust or detonate)
compressed gases (pressurized flammable or nonflammable gas)
flammable liquids (those with a flash point of less than 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
combustible liquids (those with a flash point greater than 100 degrees Fahrenheit)
flammable solids (nonexplosive solid material that burns vigorously and can be ignited readily)
oxidizers (substances that give off oxygen or act like oxygen and stimulate combustion)
poisonous gases, corrosives, (materials that destroy skin)
Exposure to nonradioactive hazardous materials is much more likely than exposure
to radioactive ones.
An incident involving hazardous materials is a true emergency and you should call 9-1-1 immediately.
Resources for Handling Hazardous Materials
Several resources can assist you in the proper handling of hazardous material emergencies:
CHEMTREC (Chemical Transportation Emergency Center) is a public service based
in Washington, D.C., as a division of the Chemical Manufacturer's Association.
You can reach officials at CHEMTREC 24 hours a day, seven days a week by dialing
1-800-424-9300. Officials there can answer any questions and advise you on how
to handle emergencies involving hazardous materials. CHEMTREC even will locate
the shipper of the hazardous materials for appropriate follow-up. To obtain
help from CHEMTREC, you will need to provide the following information:
The identification number or the name of the product.
The nature of the problem
Your name and the number where you can be reached.
The Department of Transportation Response guide number you are using.
The shipper or manufacturer of the product.
The type of container
The rail car or truck number
The carrier's name
Local conditions (weather, terrain, etc.)
It is critical that you make every effort to keep a phone line open so that the
shipper can reach you with guidance and assistance.
One good reference is a guidebook published by the Department of Transportation called Hazardous Materials: Emergency Response Guidebook. The book lists more than 1,000 hazardous materials with their identification numbers; it is cross-referenced so that you can quickly locate complete instructions for emergency procedures. Many hazardous materials are listed both by identification number and in alphabetical order.
State and local agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality or
the Department of Transportation can help you identify hazardous materials and
provide assistance in case of disaster. The placard, a four-sided, diamond-shaped sign, will be displayed on
the trucks, railroad cars and large containers that are carrying hazardous materials.
Many placards are red or orange, while a few are white or green. The placard
will contain a four-digit identification number as well as a class or division
number that indicates whether the material is flammable, radioactive, explosive
Shipping papers will have the name of the substance, the classification (such as flammable or explosive), and the four-digit identification number. With very few exceptions, the shipping papers identifying hazardous materials are required to be in the cab of a motor vehicle within the reach of the driver, in the possession of a train crew member in the engine or the caboose, in a holder on the bridge of a vessel or in the aircraft pilot's possession.
Labels can be found on containers and packages containing hazardous
materials, which name the substance, the classification and the four-digit identification
Ways to Identify Hazardous Material
General Procedures - Emergencies
The general rule in working with hazardous materials is to act quickly and to
isolate and deny entry (access). Time is critical, but do not act so quickly
that you endanger yourself and others at the scene. Call 9-1-1 immediately.
Secure the scene and limit exposure to anyone. Do not try any rescue efforts.
Wait for the fire department to arrive on the scene before doing anything.
Largely due to ignorance about radiation and to inexperience in dealing
with radiation-related incidents, much fear has surrounded radiation, leading
to a lack of widespread training. Radiation emergencies may be clean (meaning
that the patient was exposed but not contaminated) or dirty (meaning that
the patient was contaminated).
The Nature of Radiation
None of your five senses can detect radiation. We always are exposed to minute
amounts of radiation. Cosmic rays that constantly bombard the earth contain
radioactive rays. Some minerals that contain radiation have occurred naturally
in the earth from the beginning. But exposure to large amounts of radiation
is a relatively new danger as people are exposed to x-rays or to unintentional
contamination from nuclear power plants, from radioactive transport vehicle
crashes and construction incidents. Radiation is a general term that describes
energy transmission. Radiation takes several different forms, including sound,
light and heat. These forms can burn the eyes, sound can harm the ears and
heat can burn. However, ionizing radiation is the most harmful and cannot
be detected without special equipment. Ionizing radiation has the unique property
of being able to disrupt atoms and, therefore, to damage the cells of the
The three kinds of ionizing radiation are: Alpha Particles - They do little damage if exposure is only external.
They can be shielded off by material as weak as clothing or a sheet of paper.
Positively charged and consisting of two protons and two neutrons, they are
considered to be the least dangerous of ionizing radiation as long as they
remain outside the body.
Beta Particles - The negatively charged electrons, are more dangerous
and are 7,000 times smaller than alpha particles, but even they can be absorbed
by heavy clothing.
Gamma Rays - These are extremely dangerous. High-energy light similar
to x-rays, they may be absorbed by several inches of lead but can pass completely
through the body as they inflict damage to the cells. Many radioactive substances
emit gamma rays spontaneously; the rays contain large amounts of energy and
are capable of inflicting damage.
How Radiation Affects the Body
Because the body depends upon billions of individual cells for its well being,
exposure to ionizing radiation can disrupt the function of those body cells
or destroy them completely. This results in radiation sickness. In massive doses
it can cause death. The degree of radiation sickness depends on what kind of
radiation was delivered, the duration of exposure, how much of the body and
what parts were exposed, and the total dose of radiation delivered.
Depending on dosage, radiation can have the following effects on the body:reddening and swelling of the skin
itching, flaking, weeping, blistering and ulceration of the skin
temporary or permanent sterility
suppression of menstruation
reduction in sperm count
swelling and inflammation of the lungs
obstruction of the airways
damage to the blood vessels and air sacs of the lungs
damage to the blood vessels throughout the body
Immediate effects can include nausea, vomiting, lowered plasma content, shock,
dehydration, tremors, convulsions, drowsiness, listlessness, and, with high
Cell damage to the body can occur with all kinds and amounts of radiation
exposure. During the first two days following exposure, a sharp increase in
the number of white blood cells occur. The number of white blood cells then
decrease, reaching a level below normal. As the number of white blood cells
decrease, the body becomes extremely susceptible to infection. At the same
time the white blood cell number is diminishing, the amount of platelet -
the cells responsible for clotting in the blood - also decrease, introducing
the possibility of uncontrolled bleeding. Simultaneously, the number of red
blood cells drop, leading to anemia. Long-range exposure to radiation or to
large doses can result in leukemia.
Victims exposed to radiation may develop what is called acute radiation syndrome,
a progressive illness with predictable stages but with a wide variety of symptoms
that may or may not occur. The severity of acute radiation syndrome depends
on the dosage of radiation received, the length or duration of exposure, and
the way in which the radiation is distributed in the body. Those who survive
radiation exposure may require months, or sometimes years, to recover completely.
In many cases, lingering effects such as chromosomal damage or reproductive
injury may never disappear.
Motorists at Scene of a Hazardous Materials Incident
If a motorist is the first on the scene of an incident involving a vehicle
carrying hazardous materials, 9-1-1 should be called immediately. REMEMBER
- STAY UPWIND AND ON A HIGHER TERRAIN THAN THE INCIDENT SITE, AND PREVENT
OTHERS FROM ENTERING THE HAZARDOUS AREA WHEN POSSIBLE..
It is very important that motorists, their passengers and all bystanders
avoid converging on the scene. Evacuation of the area is critical because
of the potential occurrences of fires, explosions and exposures. In many instances,
crowds gathering around the scene of an incident interfere with emergency
vehicle rescue operations. Sometimes bystanders are killed in explosions or
fires or later find that they were contaminated.