Hazardous Materials Incident Safety Tips

A hazardous materials incident occurs when a hazardous chemical that may harm people’s health has been released.

Table of Contents


What Is a Hazardous Material Incident?

Hazardous materials incidents can occur because of an industrial accident:

  • During production
  • While in storage
  • While in transportation
  • During use
  • During disposal; or
  • As part of an intentional attack

Hazardous materials can be explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons, and radioactive materials.

Why Prepare?

Massachusetts experiences thousands of hazardous materials incidents annually. Though the vast majority of them are quickly, easily, and safely contained, hazardous materials can cause:

  • Death,
  • Serious injury
  • Long-lasting health problems; and
  • Damage to buildings, homes, and other property

Before a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Be informed by receiving alerts, warnings, and public safety information before, during, and after emergencies.
  • Most communities in the state have Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) or are members of Regional Emergency Planning Committees (REPCs) that are responsible for creating emergency response plans for hazardous materials incidents in their area. Contact your local Emergency Management Director to identify your community's LEPC or REPC Chair and to find out more about chemical hazards and what can be done to reduce the risks posed by these events.
  • Create and review your family emergency plan.
    • Be prepared to shelter in place. Identify a room where you might go to take shelter if there was a hazardous materials incident. The room should be above ground, be large enough to accommodate all household members and pets, and have the fewest exterior windows and doors.
  • Assemble an emergency kit. Make sure to include plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors in case you need to seal off a room during a hazardous materials incident.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Call 9-1-1 to report emergencies if you see (or smell) a hazardous materials incident.
  • Monitor media for emergency information.
  • Stay away from the incident scene to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • Follow instructions from public safety officials.
  • If asked or ordered to evacuate:
    • Do so immediately.
    • If specific evacuation routes are given, follow these routes because alternate routes may not be safe.
    • Take only essential items and bring your pets if safely possible.
  • If asked or ordered to shelter in place:
    • Bring pets inside.
    • Close and lock exterior doors and windows. Close or turn off vents, fireplace dampers, exhaust fans, heating or cooling systems, and as many interior doors as possible.
    • Go into your pre-selected shelter room with your emergency kit. 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.
    • Close drapes, curtains, and shades in the room if you are warned of a possible explosion. Stay away from windows.
    • Remain in the room until authorities advise you to leave.
  • If you are caught outside, stay upstream, uphill, and upwind. Try to go at least half a mile away from the area. If possible, cover your mouth with a cloth and try not to inhale gases, fumes, and smoke.
  • If you are in a vehicle, stop and seek shelter in a safe building. If you must remain in your car, keep windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.
  • Call 2-1-1 to obtain shelter locations and other disaster information.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Return home (or discontinue sheltering in place) only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation.
  • Continue to monitor the media for emergency information.
  • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities. Depending on the material, you may be advised to take a thorough shower, or, stay away from water and follow another procedure.
  • Seek medical treatment for any unusual symptoms.
  • 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.
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to local authorities.
  • Call 2-1-1 to obtain shelter locations and other disaster information.
  • Do not eat or drink food or water that may have been contaminated.
  • Be a good neighbor. Check on family, friends, and neighbors, especially the elderly, those who live alone, those with medical conditions, and those who may need additional assistance.

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