Hazards: Chemical (CBRN)


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Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids and solids that have toxic effects on people, animals or plants. They can be released by bombs or sprayed from aircraft, boats and vehicles. They can be used as a liquid to create a hazard to people and the environment. Some chemical agents may be odorless and tasteless.

More information on Chemical, Biological, Radiation and Nuclear (CBRN) hazards.

What to Do

In life-threatening emergencies, call the Poison Control Center, EMS, 911 or the operator immediately. If you witness (or smell) a hazardous materials release, call 911.

  • If you are told to stay inside, close all windows and vents and turn off all fans, heating or cooling systems.
    • Take family members and pets to a safe room, and listen to emergency broadcast stations for instructions. Seal the room if told to do so.
  • If you find someone who appears to have been injured from chemical exposure, make sure you are not in danger before administering first aid.
  • Stay away from the incident site to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • If you are caught outside during an incident, try to stay upstream, uphill and upwind.
    • Gases and mists are generally heavier than air and hazardous materials can quickly be transported by water and wind.
    • In general, try to go at least one-half mile (10 city blocks) from the danger area.

If you are in a motor vehicle, stop and find shelter in a permanent building if possible. If you must remain in your vehicle, keep the windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.

Decontamination

Decontamination is needed within minutes of exposure to minimize health consequences. Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors to help others until authorities announce it is safe to do so.

A person affected by a chemical agent requires immediate medical attention from a professional. If medical help is not immediately available, decontaminate yourself and assist in decontaminating others.

Decontamination guidelines are as follows:

  • Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents.
  • Remove all clothing and other items in contact with the body. Contaminated clothing normally removed over the head should be cut off to avoid contact with the eyes, nose and mouth. Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal it. Decontaminate hands using soap and water. Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses. Put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them and then rinse and dry.
  • Flush eyes with water.
  • Gently wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with water.
  • Decontaminate other body areas likely to have been contaminated. Blot (do not swab or scrape) with a cloth soaked in soapy water and rinse with clear water.
  • Change into uncontaminated clothes. Clothing stored in drawers or closets is likely to be uncontaminated.
  • Proceed to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment.

Household Chemical Precautions

Other home accidents can result from adding one substance to another, not following directions for use of a product, or by improper storage or disposal of a chemical.

  • Avoid mixing common household chemical products. Some combinations of these products, such as ammonia and bleach, can create toxic gases.
  • Always read the directions before using a new product.
    • Some products should not be used in a small confined space to avoid inhaling dangerous vapors.
    • Other products should not be used without gloves and eye protection to help prevent the chemical from touching your body. Read and follow the directions.
  • Store chemical products properly. Non-food products should be stored tightly closed in their original containers so you can always identify the contents of each container and how to properly use the product.

If you spill a chemical, clean it up immediately with some rags, being careful to protect your eyes and skin. Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors in a safe place, then dispose of them by wrapping them in a newspaper and then placing them in a sealed plastic bag. Dispose of these materials with your trash. If you don't already have one, buy a fire extinguisher that is labeled for A, B, and C class fires and keep it handy.

It is also important to dispose of products properly to preserve our environment and protect wildlife. Plus, some products can be recycled and further protect our environment.

Chemical Attacks and Accidents

A chemical attack could come without warning. Signs of a chemical release include people having difficulty breathing; experiencing eye irritation; losing coordination; becoming nauseated; or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat and lungs. Also, the presence of many dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.

They can have either an immediate effect (a few seconds to a few minutes) or a delayed effect (2 to 48 hours). While potentially lethal, chemical agents are difficult to deliver in lethal concentrations. Outdoors, the agents often dissipate rapidly. Chemical agents also are difficult to produce.

  • Chemicals are everywhere. They are an important part of life.
  • The most common chemical accidents occur in our own homes and can be prevented. The best ways to avoid chemical accidents at home are to read and follow the directions for use, storage and disposal of the product. Don't mix products, especially household cleaning products.

Related Information



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