Chemicals are found everywhere. They purify drinking water, increase crop production, and simplify household chores. But chemicals also can be hazardous to humans or the environment if used or released improperly. Hazards can occur during production, storage, transportation, use, or disposal. You and your community are at risk if a chemical is used unsafely or released in harmful amounts into the environment where you live, work, or play.
There are 183 facilities located throughout Linn County that because of the volume or toxicity of the materials on site are designated as Tier Two facilities under the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act. Of those facilities 100 have reported that they are storing EPA/SARA Title III, Extremely Hazardous Substances (EHS).
Most of the hazardous materials incidents are localized and are quickly contained or stabilized by the highly trained fire departments and hazardous materials teams. Depending on the characteristic of the hazardous material or the volume of product involved, the affected area can be as small as a room in a building or as large as 5 square miles or more. Many times, additional regions outside the immediately affected area are evacuated for precautionary reasons. More widespread effects occur when the product contaminates the municipal water supply or water system such as a river, lake, or aquifer.
When managed properly under regulations, hazardous materials pose little risk. However, when handled improperly or in the event of an accident, hazardous materials can pose a significant risk to the population. Hazardous materials incidents usually occur very rapidly with little or no warning. Even if reported immediately, people in the area of the release have very little time to be warned and evacuated. During some events, sheltering in-place is the best alternative to evacuation because the material has already affected the area and there is no time to evacuate safely. Public address systems, television, radio, and the NOAA Weather Alert Radios are used to disseminate emergency messages about hazardous materials incidents.
Shelter Safety for Sealed Rooms
Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide sufficient air to prevent carbon dioxide build-up for up to 5 hours, assuming a normal breathing rate while resting.
However, local officials are unlikely to recommend the public shelter in a sealed room for more than 2-3 hours because the effectiveness of such sheltering diminishes with time as the contaminated outside air gradually seeps into the shelter. At this point, evacuation from the area is the better protective action to take.
Also you should ventilate the shelter when the emergency has passed to avoid breathing contaminated air still inside the shelter.
After a Hazardous Materials Incident
The following are guidelines for the period following a hazardous materials incident:
Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals. Do the following:
- 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.
Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.
Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.