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Hazardous Material & Chemical Emergencies


What are hazardous materials?

Hazardous materials range from items that are flammable, corrosive, or can be irritating to the body's natural processes.   These hazards can exist during production, storage, transportation, use or disposal. 

Houston is home to many chemical facilities and petroleum refineries which must use hazardous chemicals to produce their products.  This poses risks not only in the areas immediately surrounding these facilities, but also in areas where hazardous materials are transported.

What should I do in a hazardous materials incident?

  • If you witness a hazardous materials incident, such as an explosion, spill or tanker crash, dial 9-1-1.
  • Avoid the incident site to minimize risk of contamination or exposure. 
  • If you are caught outside during an incident, try to stay up-stream, uphill and upwind.
  • If you are in a car, close the windows and shut off the air conditioning and fans.
  • For an emergency involving poisoning, call the Texas Poison Control Center at (800) 222-1222.

What should I do if someone has been exposed to hazardous chemicals?

  • Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities
  • Seek medical treatment for symptoms that may be related to hazardous materials releases
  • If medical help is not immediately available and you might be contaminated, remove your clothes, shower and put on clean clothes
  • Seek medical help as soon as possible
  • Place exposed clothing in a sealed container and find out proper disposal procedures.
  • Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.

Should I evacuate?

Depending on the nature of the incident, it may be safer for you to stay where you are, than to risk exposure during an evacuation. Pay attention to the recommendation of local authorities.

If you are ordered to shelter-in-place:

  • Follow instructions given by emergency authorities.
  • Reduce toxic vapors from entering your home by sealing entry routes and closing doors and windows
  • Turn of all ventilation systems.
  • Close all fireplace dampers
  • Seal gaps around window air conditioning units, kitchen exhaust fan grills, stove and dryer vents with duct tape.
  • Close as many internal doors as possible.
  • If warned of a potential outdoor explosion, close drapes, curtain and shade and stay away from windows to prevent injury from breaking glass.
  • Stay in protected interior areas of the building where toxic vapors are reduced.
  • Listen to news media for instructions.

If you are ordered to evacuate - do so immediately

  • Listen to local authorities using a battery-powered radio.
  • If time permits, close all windows and turn off ventilation systems to minimize contamination.
  • Use travel routes recommended by local authorities - even though it may take you longer, these routes will have been recommended to limit your exposure.
  • Avoid contact with spilled liquid materials, airborne mists or condensed solid chemical deposits
  • Do not eat or drink food or liquids that may have been contaminated.

What do I do after an incident?

  • Do not return home until authorities say it is safe to do so

  • Upon returning home, open windows, doors and turn on fans to provide ventilation.

Who can I call for more information on a hazardous chemical emergency in my area?

  • If you live along the Houston Ship Channel, information may be available from the Community Awareness and Emergency Response (CAER) Line at (281) 476-2237.