What is it?
are defined as any substance which has been determined to be either a health hazard or a physical hazard to people. You may be thinking to yourself, "We live in Teton County, what Hazardous Materials do we have here?"
That is a very good question. Products that we use every day such as gasoline, household cleaners, propane, pool chemicals, and agricultural pesticides are only a few of the dangerous substances that you will find in Teton County. When used properly, these materials are helpful and make our lives easier. It is when they are either accidentally or purposefully misused that they become an issue.
Hazardous materials incidents can be very dangerous depending on the substance involved. It takes a very specialized and highly trained team to deal with the more dangerous substances. Also, dealing with and disposing of certain materials can be very difficult due to the potential environmental impact for years to come.
What are the risk factors?
Here are some of the factors that can increase your risk of being involved in a hazardous materials incident:
- Proximity to hazardous materials facilities.
These are the places where hazardous materials are either being loaded, unloaded, or produced. Although we don't have much large industry here in Teton County, we do have propane tank farms, gas stations, retail stores, and ranches where hazardous materials are used, sold, and disposed of every day.
- Proximity to hazardous materials transportation routes.
In Teton County, these would be the highways where fuel trucks, tractor trailers carrying mixed loads of cleaning supplies and other chemicals for retailers, or other carriers of hazardous materials are transporting their goods.
- If your occupation requires working near or with hazardous materials.
If you work with chemicals, you are at a higher risk of being involved in a hazardous materials incident. You can ask your employer for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) that pertain to the chemicals in your workplace. These sheets explain the hazards, necessary precautions, and first aid needed upon contact with the chemical.
What should I do?
Hazardous materials incidents can be very dangerous. Here is what you should do if you are ever involved in one:
- As for any disaster, have a plan and preparedness kit ready for your family.
If you don't have a family emergency plan and a 72 hour kit, click here to get started.
- Stay tuned to NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio, local television, or local radio.
Since each hazardous materials incident is truly unique, there aren't any hard-and-fast rules for how to react. As a citizen you want to stay informed of the situation by listening for instructions from local emergency services given over the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which includes NOAA All-Hazards Weather Radio, Bresnan cable television, 95.3 FM KZJH, and 96.9 FM KMTN.
- Have materials ready to shelter in place if asked to do so.
With many hazardous materials incidents, the safest place for the public is in their homes. This reduces exposure to harmful chemicals and decreases the number of people that need to go through extensive decontamination. It has been found that a well-weatherproofed home is actually the best defense against any type of hazardous substance outside. Depending on the incident, you may be asked to take further precautions, such as those detailed in the diagram below:
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If you encounter a hazardous materials spill/incident, stay upwind, uphill, and upstream.
This will reduce your exposure to the hazardous chemicals. Remember the hazardous materials "rule of thumb": if you can't cover the entire incident up by holding your thumb out in front of you at arm's length, you're too close!
Do not attempt to rescue someone who has been exposed to a hazardous material if you haven't been exposed.
Safety first. If you can help without risking exposure to yourself, or if you have already been exposed, you can try to help those around you. Otherwise, the best thing that you can do is to keep everyone who has been exposed in a centrally located area so they can be quickly and efficiently decontaminated when emergency services arrive.
Help emergency services by identifying a placard or sign from a safe distance.
If you haven't been exposed and there are other people who have, you can be of the most use by helping to identify the material. Using binoculars or a spotting scope, try to find shipping placards on the outside of a truck or the NFPA fire diamond on fixed installations. Call 911 and describe the signage and situation to the dispatcher so that they can best prepare the emergency first responders. Always remember to keep your distance uphill, upwind, and upstream! DO NOT get close to the scene if you cannot identify the placard or sign!
Here is an example of a US Department of Transportation Hazardous Materials placard:
These will only be seen on trucks, trains, or other vehicles that transport hazardous materials. If you can see this placard from safe distance, tell the 911 dispatcher the color of the placard, any symbols on it, and the 4 digit number in the white box (not all placards will have this). Vehicles generally only need to be labeled if they are carrying over 1000 lbs of a single material. If they are carrying a mixed load and each material is less than 1000 lbs, they are not required to have a placard.
Here is an example of a National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) fire diamond:
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You will find these on fixed installations, buildings, and facilities. If you can see this diamond from a safe distance away, tell the 911 dispatcher that it is an NFPA diamond and read off the colors with whatever number or letter is within it. Remember, there can still be hazardous materials inside of a building, but not enough to require the use of an NFPA fire diamond.
Just because you can't see a placard or a fire diamond, does not mean that there are not hazardous materials present!
If you are exposed to hazardous materials, do not spread the contamination.
You can greatly reduce the spread of contaminants by not leaving the scene. Many people's first reaction is to run away, but as people scatter they spread the hazardous materials and it makes it difficult to get everyone decontaminated. Stay put, because you don't want to contaminate your friends or family by returning home without first being properly decontaminated.
While awaiting emergency services, remove all clothing. Sometimes the weather or the situation doesn't allow this, but remove as much clothing as possible and place it into a tightly sealed container, if available. This will reduce your contact with chemicals that may have been absorbed into your clothing.
If you are in your vehicle, get to a permanent structure for shelter.
If you must remain in your vehicle, shut all vents and turn off all heat and air conditioning.
Go to FEMA's website on Hazardous Materials to learn even more about what to do if you are affected by a hazardous materials situation.
You can also take several free online courses through FEMA's Independent Study program, such as: