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 Manmade Disasters

Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT)

We may think that hazardous materials are uncommon and restricted to research or industrial uses, but they include a wide variety of items that are flammable, corrosive, toxic or poisonous or because of its properties may endanger life or property. As many as 500,000 products can be defined as hazardous chemicals because they pose physical or health risks.

Nationwide hazardous materials are manufactured, used or stored at an estimated 4.5 million facilities. They are in widespread use in West Virginia businesses – including agriculture, coal production and the chemical industry. Hazardous materials are most often released into the environment as the result of accidents while being transported or through a chemical accident in a plant.
Most chemical accidents that injure people occur at home. Never mix household chemicals. Incompatible chemicals may react, ignite or explode. Mixing many common household cleaners can produce deadly gases. Never use hair spray, cleaning solutions, paint products or pesticides near an open flame (pilot light, wood burning stove, lighted candle). They may catch fire or explode. Leave the residence if there is danger or a fire or explosion. Call the fire department from a neighbor’s home or use your cell phone from outside the house. To avoid toxic fumes, stay upwind and away from the home.

If someone has been exposed to a household chemical, call the poison control center, a hospital emergency room or 9-1-1 for emergency advice. Your local health department, fire department or pharmacist may also be able to provide information. Symptoms of toxic poisoning include difficulty breathing, irritation of the eyes, skin, or throat, skin color changes, headache, dizziness, blurred vision or lack of coordination, cramps or diarrhea. Act immediately if a chemical get into the eyes. Unless authorities instruct you otherwise, flush the eyes with clear water for a minimum of 15 minutes.

Hazardous materials accidents can happen anywhere. While communities near chemical manufacturing plants are at particular risk, any area may be vulnerable to an accident when hazardous materials are being transported by railroad, highway or barges on the nation’s rivers.

Preparing for a HAZMAT incident includes many of the same steps taken to prepare for any other emergency (assemble a disaster supply kit, post local emergency numbers near the telephone, have and practice your emergency communications plan, assemble supplies needed to seal the above-ground room you have chosen to stay in if you must shelter in place, as well as the emergency supplies you will need if advised to evacuate). In addition, learn if your community has an emergency warning system and how it works.

During a HAZMAT incident, tune into the local station in the emergency system for detailed information and instructions. If possible, stay upwind, upstream and uphill from the danger zone and at least one-half mile away. If instructed to shelter in place, bring pets inside. Fill up available additional water containers. Close windows, doors, vents and fireplace dampers and turn off the air conditioners and ventilation systems. Use plastic sheeting and duct tape to cover windows, doors and vents in rooms your family will shelter in.

If you are in a vehicle, stop and seek shelter in a building, if possible. If you must remain in your vehicle, keep windows and vents closed and turn off the air conditioner or heater.
After a HAZMAT incident, if you have been exposed to hazardous materials, act quickly and follow decontamination instructions. Continue to listen to the emergency broadcast system. Depending on the nature of the contamination, you might be advised to take a shower or stay away from water. Keep contaminated clothing and shoes away from other materials. Seal them in containers and follow instructions from local authorities on proper disposal.

If you were directed to evacuate, do not return to the area until local officials have declared ‘all clear’.


Terrorist attacks have left many concerned about the possibility of future incidents in the United States and their potential impact. Terrorist goals are to destabilize government and panic citizens. They try to keep us guessing about what might happen next, increasing our worries.

However, there are things you and your family can do to prepare for the unexpected. This can reduce the stress that you may feel now and later should another emergency arise. Being prepared can reassure you and your children that you can have a measure of control even in the face of such events.

Possible terrorist acts could include bombs or explosives. One example is a car bomb like those used in the Middle East and against U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania or against the U.S.S Cole in Yemen. Airlines full of fuel caused the bomb-like destruction at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Bombs can even be sent by mail.

Find out what could happen to your family and neighborhood. Reading this booklet is a good start. Once you have determined the events possible and their potential in your community, it is important that you discuss them with your family or household. Develop an emergency plan together.

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