Learn about Hazardous Materials

Hazmat Suits


Hazardous materials can be: flammable or combustible, explosive, toxic, reactive, corrosive, or radioactive.

Hazardous material releases are most often due to transportation accidents or accidents at facilities. Large-scale hazardous materials incidents are less common than other types of disasters but can be dangerous and even deadly. 

The most important action you can take is to remove yourself from the affected area.


Before a Hazardous Materials Incident

Protect yourself from a hazardous materials incident before they occur:

  • Build an Emergency Supply Kit with the addition of plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors.
  • Make a Family Emergency Plan, and remember to include emergency planning for your pets
  • Know how to operate your home’s ventilation system.
  • Identify an above-ground shelter room with as few openings as possible.
  • Read more about sheltering in place.

During a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information and follow instructions carefully.
  • Keep in mind that some toxic chemicals are odorless.
 If you are instructed to evacuate:
In some situations, you could be directed to evacuate. Make sure to:
  • Do so immediately.
  • Stay tuned to the radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters and procedures.
  • If you have time, minimize contamination in the house by closing all windows, shutting all vents and turning off attic fans.
  • Take pre-assembled disaster supply kit.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance — infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs.
 If you are instructed to shelter in place:
In some situations, you could be directed to shelter in place. Make sure to:
  • Bring pets inside.
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows.
  • Close vents and fireplace dampers.
  • Turn off heaters and air conditioners.
  • Seal gaps under and around the following areas with wet towels, plastic sheeting, duct tape, wax paper or aluminum foil:
    • Doorways and windows
    • Air conditioning units
    • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans
    • Stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting
  • Go to an interior room with no exterior windows or door.
  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that could be contaminated.
    • Note: Ten square feet of floor space per person will provide enough air for up to five hours, assuming a normal breathing rate while resting.
If you are caught outside or in your car: 
  • Keep yourself safe, stay away from the affected area.
  • A good rule is to stay at least one-half mile away from the danger area.
  • Stay upwind, uphill and upstream from the release or accident site.
  • 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 or mask while leaving the area.
  • Stay away from accident victims until the hazardous material has been identified.
  • If necessary, 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.

After a Hazardous Materials Incident

  • Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.
  • Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals.
    • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities.
    • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible.
    • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers.
    • Advise everyone who comes in to contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
  • 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 your local emergency services office.