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Chemical Emergencies

Chemicals play important roles in our everyday lives. They can be found in household and commercial products that are lifesaving as well as hazardous. Chemical accidents do happen, sometimes threatening human health and the environment. Chemicals have also been used as terrorist weapons.

You can prepare for chemical emergencies by learning about the risks from common chemicals and planning for actions to keep your household safe. You can also prepare for what to do during a major chemical emergency to protect your family.

There are two types of chemical emergencies:  intentional and accidental release.

  • An intentional chemical release is when a chemical is released on purpose with intent to harm others.
  • An accidental chemical release is when chemicals are spilled on accident. These can range from spilling something inside your home to a large tanker spill.

Both types of chemical releases can happen indoors or outdoors. There are different types of chemicals with their own unique effects when you are exposed to them. When someone is exposed to a chemical, it means they have come into contact with it by way of getting it on their skin, breathing it in, or by eating or drinking it.

Learn more about the different types of chemicals that could be released and how they affect you:

  • Blister - These chemicals cause the affected area to blister and also cause chemical burns. An example of a blister agent is mustard gas. These have mostly been used in warfare. Symptoms include: Irritation and burning of the affected area. Blisters are visible on skin.

  • Blood - These chemicals block oxygen from your cells and tissues. Cyanide is a common blood agent. Symptoms include: red, burning skin, blisters, sore throat, dry cough, pulmonary edema, eye damage, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

  • Choking - These chemicals when inhaled make it hard to breathe. Pure chlorine is an example of a choking agent.

  • Nerve - These chemicals affect the nervous system. This is another agent mostly used in warfare, but is contained in small amounts as an ingredient in some insecticides.

How to Stay Healthy

Regardless of how the chemical is released here are some tips on how to protect you and your family.

  • For a major chemical emergency follow the instructions of emergency workers.

  • If the chemical was released outdoors, go as far away from the site as you can or go indoors.

  • If the chemical was released indoors, go outside.

  • If you are exposed to any type of chemical: remove your clothing, place the clothing in a plastic bag, and shower.

  • Seek immediate medical attention if you have come into contact with the chemical.

How to Prepare

  • Learn about risk from household chemicals. Contact the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services at 800-MI-TOXIC (800-648-6942), or visit the National Institutes of Health website.

  • Learn about your community's risk from chemical hazards. Some things to consider include:

    • Living near industrial areas

    • Whether cargo trains enter or pass close by where you live

    • Whether semi-trucks pass through or around where you live.

  • Keep the Poison Control Center phone number in a visible place in case of emergency: 800-222-1222

For More Information

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have information on chemical emergencies of all types. Below are links to information concerning chemical emergencies