Chemical emergencies


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Chemical Accident or Disaster?


What is a chemical accident?     A Chemical accident is defined as the unintentional release of one or more hazardous substances which could harm human health or the environment. Chemical hazards are systems where accidents could occur under certain circumstances. Vulnerabilities in processes, equipment and human interaction have the potential to create chemical hazards. Such hazards include fires, explosions, leakages or releases of toxic and hazardous materials that can cause illness, injury, disability or death, [source].


What is considered a chemical disaster?     

A Chemical disaster is defined as an imagesaccident that is large scale, severe and involving chemical substances. Wide spread damage can be expected causing injuries and loss of life to largely populated areas. The potential can effects on many animals, plants, and humans, as well as the destruction of an environment or Eco system.
Law Dictionary: (Black's Law Dictionary)






Chemicals play an essential role in our everyday lives. They can be found at home and at work. People can be exposed to harmful chemicals through accidents or purposeful intent. An accident or mishap is an incidental and unplanned event of circumstances. When chemicals are involved lives and property are at risk as well as the surrounding environment. When chemicals have been used to harm life or destroy property with intent we call it acts of terrorism or chemical warfare. Either way, unfortunate events involving chemicals can have serious consequences. Preparing for and responding to chemical emergencies or acts of terrorism are essential functions of the Public health & Safety organizations. Preventative measures and methods of responding to chemical emergencies should be practiced by everyone. The potentials for a disaster are higher now than ever before. The increasing use of chemicals in our modern society coupled with antiquated technical applications or safety practices can create potentials for disastrous situations, like a ticking time bomb waiting to happen. Now days we have a much broader range of chemicals to deal with which presents additional potentials for mishaps. Many hazardous compounds are naturally occurring while others are synthesized to be used in business as well as warfare.

Many people have lost their lives from exposure to natural elements found below the surface of the Earth such as methane, uranium and acidic gases or fluids. Escaping gases can kill an entire village or town. Such an event known as  "Limnic eruptions" has occurred in the past at Lake Nyos where most all the inhabitants and livestock died. Similar events took place at Lake Monoun and Lake Kivu

Other potentially hazardous chemicals and agents are found at the work place commonly used in manufacturing processes. US industry standards require a material safety data sheet, (MSDS), for the purpose of informing employees of the potential dangers associated with the chemicals they may be using. Not all employers are diligent in regards to  informing employee's of the potential hazards and do not place a heavy emphasis on safe work practices. It is smarter to be attentive to your surroundings while at work. If your eyes burn, throat feels sore or  your feeling a little nauseous while at work it may be an indication that something is wrong with the immediate environment.

Chemicals are also produced for domestic use. We see them in abundance under the sinks in our homes and in the garage or shed. Both naturally occurring and synthesized chemicals present a concern for the safe handling and storage as well as an awareness to the effects. Household chemicals such as cleaners and solvents can be dangerous by themselves and the effects can be severely compounded if accidentally mixed with other materials. At home is where most chemical accidents occur due to a lack of knowledge or safety practices. Regardless of where the exposure occurred immediate attention is advisable. Exposure to hazardous chemicals can result in a broad range of adverse health effects based on the character of the chemicals being used, type of exposure, and a number of additional factors. Being exposed to harmful chemicals can have both short and long term health effects. Sometimes the conditions of exposure may not surface for months or even years. By that time it may be too late to reverse the effects.

Those Effects have also been harnessed with the purposeful intent to incapacitate or extinguish life. Some chemicals have been purposely created for the use as weapons by military organization. Be aware that these chemical agents exist and are also subject to a containment breech. This was the case in Texas when a disaster took place during poor weather conditions and was not made public knowledge so as to to avoid panic. Other facilities for bio chemical weapons are located in Indiana. Chemical terrorism on the other hand is the deliberate utilization of hazardous substances for the purpose of causing major societal and economic disruption. Weapons as such can cause damage to human health and the environment on a greater scale. Specific compounds are of special concern since they can cause hazardous conditions for extended periods of time rendering the areas effected uninhabitable. If not cared for and secured in an appropriate method the unimaginable can occur.

 Many countries have participated in consenting to disband their stockpiles of deadly chemicals to prevent misuse. Nonetheless, terrorists often gain access to enough toxic and deadly chemicals to create chaos.

Chemical Weapons information

  A Summary Report of Characteristics and Effects from the Congressional Research Service




What are the effects of chemical disasters?

By their own nature, the production, storage, and transportation of chemical compounds are accidents waiting to happen. Many substances are corrosive, poisonous, and often explosive. The impacts of chemical exposure could be severe and potentially deadly if mishandled for both human beings and the environment. The source of several chemical agents is petroleum which is refined into two main fractions. Chemical feedstock is the building block for inks, paints, dyes, plastics, polyester, and many other products we use regularly. Fuel and chemical feedstock’s made from petroleum are called organic compounds. The other significant class of compounds are inorganic, including cyanide, caustics, acids, and metals. Of the more than forty thousand compounds in commercial use, much of these are subject to accidental spills or release. Chemical spills and accidents can cause a range of effects from explosions and meltdowns to annihilation of Eco systems which often includes the death of all life forms in the area. People can expect symptoms and effects associated with the nervous system and experience blindness, skin deterioration, loss of breath etc.   Go here for more.


The following are examples of disasters in history involving a chemical release.
  • The Bhopal Disaster

The Bhopal disaster was one of the worst industrial chemical disasters which occurred without warning early on the morning of December 3, 1984. While most people slept, a storage tank, through a set of mechanical and human failures, discharged a cloud of deadly methyl isocyanate on the sleeping city. Some two thousand people perished instantaneously and another eight thousand died afterward. Health officials, unaware of the deadly compounds stored in the factory, were entirely unprepared for the tragedy.

Less than a year later, a Union Carbide plant that created methyl isocyanate in Institute, West Virginia, leaked a hazardous cloud in the Kanawha Valley. The West Virginia incident was a shocking reminder that what happened at Bhopal could occur in the USA.



  • Oppau Explosion, Germany

One of the biggest chemical disasters happened in the Oppau, Germany plant of BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, on September 21, 1921 when a tower silo storing 4500 tonnes of a mixture of ammonium sulphate and ammonium nitrate fertilizer exploded. The explosion killed about 500-600 people and injured more than 2000. More than 80 percent of all buildings in Oppau were destroyed leaving 6500 people homeless. The exact cause of the accident could not be known as all those involved died in the explosion. However researches suggest that an inaccurate estimation of sulphate-nitrate could have been a reason. A few months before the incident the manufacturing process had been changed in a way which lowered the humidity level which is another estimated trigger for the explosion. [Source]]Video]


  • The Seveso accident: It's nature, extent and consequences

On July 10, 1976, an explosion at a northern Italian chemical plant released a thick, white cloud of dioxin that quickly settled on the town of Seveso, north of Milan. First, animals began to die. As TIME Magazine  wrote about a month after the incident, "One farmer saw his cat keel over, and when he went to pick up the body, the tail fell off. When authorities dug the cat up for examination two days later, said the farmer, all that was left was its skull." It was four days before people began to feel ill effects from the gas. Symptoms such as nausea, blurred vision and disfiguring sores of a skin disease known as chloracne. The town was evacuated for weeks. Residents eventually returned to the town, and today a large park sits above two giant tanks that hold the remains of hundreds of slaughtered animals, the destroyed factory and the soil that received the largest doses of dioxin. [source][Video]


  • The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, on March 24, 1989, when Exxon Valdez, an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef at 12:04 am local time and spilled 11,000,000 to 38 million gallons of crude oil. It is considered to be one of the most devastating human-caused environmental disasters in history. The Valdez spill was the largest in US waters until the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill  in terms of volume released. According to official reports, the ship was carrying approximately 55 million gallons US gallons (210,000 m3) of oil.  [source][Video]


  • Sarin gas

Sarin is regarded as the most powerful weaponized gas where a single drop is enough to kill an adult human being. Developed in 1938 by a group of German scientists  this fatal gas was first used by the Nazi Germany in 1942. At the war's end, Germany purportedly possessed more than 10 tons. It is most famous for being used in a Japanese cult Aum Shinrikyo, killing thirteen and purportedly injuring more than 5,000 people. It was also used in by Al Assad's forces killing more than 1,700 people in 2013. Almost instantaneously after exposure, first symptoms include powerful headaches, increased secretion of tears, followed by slow paralysis of the muscles. Asphyxiation or heart failure causes death. [source][Video]


 Bottom line

An increased likelihood of a chemical disaster exists.

We are now living in a society that depends heavily on chemicals to make the comforts and technical wonders we have grown accustomed to. The use of chemicals in the manufacturing process is a part of how the industry of manufacturing works. Chemicals are in just about every part of our lives. Especially if you live in a modern society. Even municipal water has cleaning agents added. In this day and age it is tough to avoid using any products or service that is not associated with chemicals. Those chemicals are manufactured and transported near populated areas which presents a potential for hazardous conditions to occur. In many cases a deadly mixture of chemical compounds are being made or transported in close proximity to one another which adds an increase to the needs of having a plan. Chemicals are transported by various methods such as by trucks, trains, boats etc., ....all of which have had disasters in history. Accidents can occur just about anywhere at anytime. Accidents involving chemical compounds are dangerous and are often invisible to the human eye. Detection may be difficult and too late for some victims. The key is to  be informed and aware of the potentials of chemical disasters and know what to do when disaster strikes. Having the appropriate equipment for such a disaster could mean the difference between life and death.


Are you prepared for a chemical emergency? If not read on.


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