Response to chemical incidents varies in each country but it is important that relevant agencies are coordinated. As an example we will examine the situation for New Zealand.
In February 1973 drums of an organophosphate cotton defoliant known as Merphos™ were unloaded from a ship at Auckland Harbour, after they had suffered damage from a storm at sea. Moisture in the storage area caused the drums to give off noxious fumes during the night, and by morning local residents became alarmed. Emergency services were alerted, a state of civil emergency declared, and a large part of the Auckland suburb of Parnell was evacuated.
Identification of the material raised toxicity problems due to similarity of the name Merphos™ with another compound, Murphos™, a brand name under which parathion, a very toxic organophosphate, had been marketed in New Zealand. By the time the identification was made 600 people had attended the Accident and Emergency Centres in the Auckland area. Many people were given atropine as for organophosphate poisoning, however this was unnecessary since the actual compound was a non-cholinesterase inhibiting organophosphate.
A Commission of Inquiry was set up to enquire and report upon matters arising out of the incident. This had wide terms of reference. As a result of this enquiry recommendations were made to change legislation administered by the Fire service and Department of Health to ensure that such an incident did not happen again. The Fire Service Act was amended in 1975 to provide increased authority to fire brigades at non-fire incidents.
The Poisons Act 1960 was replaced by the Toxic Substances Act 1979 (came into force in 1983) and this new Act provided increased authority with respect to the importation of chemicals, transport of chemicals, and additional labelling requirements.
The Commission of Inquiry also recommended that consideration be given to the establishment of a Centre which would provide a 24 hour service to assist in identifying the nature and extent of hazards from spillages, leaks and fires involving chemicals.
Immediately after the enquiry steps were taken to set up emergency services co-ordinating committees (ESCC) as recommended. These were set up in metropolitan centres under the chairmanship of the Police Department. In addition, it was considered that Hazardous Substances Technical Liaison Committees (HSTLC) should be formed as sub-committees of the ESCC. The function of these committees was to co-ordinate certain actions in respect to chemical emergencies.
The functions of the HSTLCs were set down:
(1) Provision or accessibility to technical information on handling an incident on a 24 hour call basis even though the majority of incidents occur during working hours;
(2) Co-ordination of procedures to be adopted for identification of chemicals, their removal and disposal;
(3) Determination of what assistance may be possible in a fire situation involving hazardous substances;
(4) Assistance in compiling or co-ordinating technical information services.
(1) HSTLCs were set up in each main centre with membership depending on the expertise available. The Fire Service agreed to act as convenor of the HSTLC in all areas. Generally the organisations include:
Ministry of Health
Department of Labour (hazardous substances)
Technical expert in chemistry (varies according to local expertise, e.g., University, Crown Research Institute)
Industry specialists (Chemical Industry Council members, where available)
Media representative or liaison
Local/Territorial authority (water, electricity, environmental, hazardous substances)
(2) The aim is to hold at least two meetings each year, with additional meetings as required such as a debriefing after a major accident. In some areas the HSTLC has instigated training exercises with considerable success.
(3) The success of the HSTLC concept relies to a large degree on the enthusiasm of the convenor and other people on the committees. It is obviously very difficult to retain interest in a formal way because of the lack of emergencies in some areas. An annual exercise is one way of developing interest and getting to know one another. In those areas where chemical incidents are more frequent a considerable amount of liaison occurs between the services involved.
(4) Standard operating procedures at hazardous materials incidents have been developed for each HSTLC.
(1) The availability of suitable resource material and equipment for dealing with chemical incidents is a matter for each local HSTLC to decide after appropriate liaison occurs between the services involved.
(2) Each police station is already required to have an emergency disaster plan. This plan contains a full list of resources available in the area to deal with emergency situations of all types.
(3) Emergency planning by the HSTLC is an essential part of its development and operation. Pre-disaster planning is the responsibility of each organisation involved in or assisting at chemical incidents. The Ministry of Health has statutory obligations with respect to toxic substances and corrosives while the Department of Labour has similar power for flammable and oxidising agents. The Police are involved in determining compliance with the Transport Regulations. The introduction of the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act and Regulations has provided new controls for hazardous substances and established hazardous substances enforcement officers.
(4) The aim of all pre-disaster planning is to get the most effective utilisation of aid and assistance from agencies involved. This is necessary to prevent injury, damage to property and to re-establish essential services.
(5) Such plans seek to provide the necessary co-ordination for various possible occurrences resulting from incidents involving chemicals, such as fires, toxic or flammable gas release, or industrial accidents. These plans should recognise various uncertainties likely to occur and provide the essential framework for handling the emergency.
(6) A full list of personnel making up the HSTLC is made available to all agencies showing contact telephone and 24 hour tracer numbers.
(7) All non-uniformed personnel who may be required to attend at a chemical incident are provided with appropriate identification to facilitate their access to the hazardous materials incident area.
(1) A comprehensive list of all firms storing or using chemicals in significant quantities should be drawn up. This list should cover sector areas of the region covered by the HSTLC for ease of planning. The information for this list can be obtained by direct methods from firms identified by the different agencies, telephone directory, Chemistry Industry Council and personal knowledge. This list will be of prime importance to the fire service when attending fires in the premises concerned.
(2) These firms should be given full encouragement to set up emergency procedures in the event of a chemical incident. Local authorities should consider zoning and land use planning based on likely environmental effects of chemical incidents.
(3) The list should contain details of chemicals categorised into hazard categories such as: flammable, toxic, etc., showing approximate quantities usually present. A brief description of the location of these chemicals in the building will also be of assistance.
(4) An attempt should be made to estimate quantities and type of chemicals transported around the region. This information will also include transport modes involved and the main holding places for such chemicals.
(5) All industrial concerns using bulk chemicals should be encouraged to formulate on site emergency plans to deal with a spillage. (This is now a requirement under the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms legislation for sites holding various classes and quantities of hazardous substances). The HSTLC should be involved in the making of these plans to ensure that an integrated approach is maintained on a regional basis.
(6) Arrangements should be made with industries using chemicals for a contact person to liaise with the HSTLC as required.
(1) Liaison with the local authorities in the region on waste disposal is a requirement. Knowledge of waste disposal sites, restrictions on use, and contact personnel are essential.
(1) Good communications are essential in the handling of any disaster or incident.
(2) All essential services should ensure that an emergency response communications network is set up and operational at all times. Periodic testing of the network should be done to ensure that it is functioning correctly.
(3) In those regions or districts with more than one main centre careful consideration will have to be given to the most appropriate communication system, to ensure full coverage.
(1) All major incidents involving chemicals tend to cause publicity of an emotional nature. This is particularly so if the chemicals involved are controversial, such as 245T or PCBs.
(2) It is essential that within the HSTLC a clear delegation to one person is made to handle media enquiries at major incidents. This will prevent conflicting statements being made by different agencies. The person given the role of media spokesman will of course make appropriate enquiries from all groups involved before making a statement.
(1) A “debrief” meeting should be held after all major incidents to review procedures and events leading up to “stand-down”. This meeting will identify any shortcomings experienced by those involved and these can be taken into account in the future.
Safeguarding life and property
Maintain law and order
Co-ordinate the activities of other emergency services
Facilitate movement of specialist services or units to allow them to operate properly
- the dead
- injury – kin
- death – kin
Take charge in absence of other emergency services
‘Cordon area’ – securing public safety
- Road Transport Rule – Containment/Safe Loads – Documentation
- Local Government Act – road closure
- Fire Service Act – some powers of the officer unless fire, Fire Service in command
- close roads, remove people, vehicles, any other reasonable act
- Crimes Act – arrest for breach of peace or obstructing law enforcement officers
Key function is triage
- location of
- treat and refer
Understanding the chemistry to interpret the health effects
- intelligence – timing of (before scene)
Route of entry
Scales of effects
- at scene
- beyond it
Resources dependant on scale of effects
Reliant on intelligence from whom?
Reliant on physical support from whom?
24 / 7 on call
Timing for response up to 30 minutes
Local Response lans
Control and Command - who in charge, what support is required?
Identification - uniform - vehicle
Victims – rights
- assists police where fire not involved at incident to protect life and property
- limited to authority provided by police
- Chemicals Database
First Responder – Site Command
Officer in Charge – Command Post
Fire Personnel are not Scientists
Reliant on other expertise for the chemical, physical, biological, environmental answers
- breathing apparatus/chemical suits
- neutralising material
- wash down and clean up
Stabilise and render safe the situation
Recovery of costs
Prehospital response to Hazmat incidents. RSD Yeung, JTS Chan, ST Ho. Hong Kong J Emerg Med 2002;9:90-94
Hazmat incidents rarely occur, but when they do they may cause tremendous casualties and terror among the community. The chemical leakage in Bhopal of India in 1984 resulted in 2500 deaths and injured more than 150,000. The Sarin attack in Tokyo subway station caused more than 10 deaths and 5,000 people were affected. Therefore, both industrial chemical leakage and terrorist attack using chemical agents is a major concern to any cosmopolitan city. To best manage these incidents, we need a well written contingency response plan involving local government departments, the Police Department, the Fire Service Department and the receiving hospitals
(1) Find out what roles your local emergency services play in dealing with chemical incidents.
(2) Chemical Accident Scenario
A flat decked articulated truck carrying drums of chemicals from a port to a large mining operation is involved in an accident with a passenger vehicle on the highway near the centre of a small rural community. The truck swerved to avoid a vehicle which had turned suddenly from a side road onto the highway. Unfortunately the truck driver could not avoid hitting the car which contained two people and resulted in the car being extensively damaged and the truck rolling over blocking the highway and loosing much off its cargo. The two persons in the car are injured and trapped and the truck driver is unconscious in the cab. Some of the drums of chemicals have become damaged and have interacted producing an unpleasant odour.
A driver of another vehicle who has witnessed the scene calls the police. The call is logged at 1332 hours.
(The chemicals are 200L drums of aqueous sodium ethyl xanthate and 20L plastic containers of hydrochloric acid.)
The site of the accident is marked on the accompanying map. A moderate NE wind is blowing.
You are to take the role of the health advisor at this emergency.