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What are the most common HazMat threats for first responders?

by Steven Pike, Argon Electronics

The unintentional release of toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of physical, health and environmental hazards. And when it comes to the storage, handling or transport of hazardous materials (HazMat), safety is paramount.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) defines HazMat as any substance that is potentially harmful to human health or the environment. 

While there are a multitude of precautions that industries will take to stay safe, in the event of accidental spillage due to a road traffic accident or as the result of an industrial incident, highly trained HazMat crews will be called on to mitigate the threat.

In this article, we explore eight of the most common hazardous materials that first responders are likely to encounter in the event of an industrial accident or road transport incident.

1) Carbon Dioxide

Refrigerated carbon dioxide is a colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas used to chill or freeze food products as part of the process of transport to market.

Although non-toxic, when carbon dioxide displaces oxygen in confined spaces the carbon dioxide vapors can cause headache, nausea, dizziness or asphyxiation. And when carbon dioxide comes into contact with skin it can also cause severe burns.

When responding to incidents where C02 is stored, firefighters need to be alert to the possibility of leakages. A low oxygen meter should be used to determine that an area is safe for occupancy.

2) Chlorine

Chlorine is a key component in the production of key industrial and consumer products including the vast majority of pharmaceutical production and virtually all crop protection chemicals.

It is a highly reactive and volatile substance, particularly when in the presence of heat, and is considered to be among the most dangerous of hazardous materials.

Chlorine is classified as both a Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) and a Poison Inhalation Hazard (PIH).

3) Fireworks

Both the transport and storage of consumer fireworks pose a high fire risk. In the United Kingdom (UK), the physical movement (transfer) of explosives from one place to another (excluding those moved within a site) requires a Recipient Competent Authority (RCA) document. 

According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) a license is required from an appropriate licensing authority in order to be able to store explosives, however depending on their hazard type certain quantities of explosives can be kept for a short time without the need for a license. 

In the US, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has issued mandatory safety regulations for fireworks devices that are regulated under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act.

4) Gasoline

Typical gasoline contains approximately 150 different chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene.

The highly flammable nature of gasoline, the ease with which it evaporates and its explosive potential in air, makes it a high exposure risk. Gasoline exposure can occur through the breathing of gasoline vapours, via the drinking of contaminated water or by coming into contact with contaminated soil.

Gasoline should only be stored in approved containers and must not be handled near any ignition source.

5) Argon

A refrigerated liquid, Argon is most commonly used in the production of fluorescent light bulbs and in welding.

Argon is classed as neither flammable nor toxic, however it can cause significant tissue damage if it comes into contact with skin and it can be extremely harmful if inhaled. To avoid sudden releases Argon is transported in upright cylinders.

6) Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid (also known as “battery acid”, “hydrgen sulfate” and “oil of vitriol”) is one of the most important compounds in the chemical industry. The annual production of sulfuric acid worldwide has been predicted to hit 260 million tonnes by the end of 2018. 

Sulfuric acid is used widely in the production of phosphate fertilizers, metal processing, lead-based batteries, fiber production and chemical manufacturing (including paints, pigments, dyes and synthetic detergents.)

It is a highly corrosive substance which is destructive to skin, eyes, teeth and lungs. Severe exposure can be fatal.

7) Propylene

Propylene is a volatile, flammable gas used as a crucial product in the petrochemical, packaging and plastics industries.

It is often used in the place of propane in high-velocity oxygen fuel (HVOF) processes. Propylene gas poses a fire hazard when it is handled in the vicinity of any equipment capable of causing ignition.

8) Liquefied Petroleum Gas (LPG)

Comprising a combination of propane and butane, LPG is commonly used as both a fuel (to heat vehicles and appliances) and as a refrigerant. Its mixture of hydrocarbon gases poses a major fire risk which means it must be stored in pressured vessels.

Toxic chemicals can pose a wide range of potential health and physical hazards to those employees operating within industrial plants and to the personnel charged with handling or transporting these substances. And as such they are heavily regulated.

In the rare case of accidental release, the knowledge of HazMat crews can provide life-saving assistance in identifying the threat, containing the area and mitigating the effects of the incident. 

This article was first published on the Argon Electronics website.

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About the Author

Steven Pike is the Founder and Managing Director of Argon Electronics, a leader in the development and manufacture of Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) and hazardous material (HazMat) detector simulators.
He is interested in liaising with CBRN professionals and detector manufacturers to develop training simulators as well as CBRN trainers and exercise planners to enhance their capability and improve the quality of CBRN and Hazmat training.

First ship launched of Trans Mountain spill response fleet

As reported by jwnenergy.com, the first of 43 new spill response vessels being built to support the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion was launched recently in Prince Rupert, B.C.

The 26-foot Sentinel 30 workboat and landing craft was built for Western Canada Marine Response Corp. (WCMRC).  WCMRC is the Transport Canada-certified marine spill response organization for Canada’s West Coast. Its mandate under the Canada Shipping Act is to be prepared to respond to marine oil spills along all 27,000 km of British Columbia’s coastline, and to mitigate the impact when a spill occurs. This includes the protection of wildlife, economic and environmental sensitivities, and the safety of both the responders and the public.

The Sentinel 30 Spill Response Vessel built by WCMRC

The spill response vessels are part of an investment of $150 million committed after Kinder Morgan made its final investment decision on the pipeline in June 2017, British Columbia’s largest-ever expansion of spill response personnel and equipment.

“Workboats are the backbone of a response. These support vessels deliver equipment and personnel to a response, tow boom as part of a sweep system, deploy skimmers and can assist with waste removal,” WCMRC said in a statement.

“To perform these tasks, the new Sentinel 30 is powered by twin 150 HP counter-rotating Yamaha outboards and can travel at up to 35 knots.”

The Sentinel 30 will undergo spill response trials in Prince Rupert and ultimately be transitioned to the new 24/7 response base in Saanich on Vancouver Island.

In total, WCMRC is building 40 new vessels as part of the Trans Mountain pipeline spill response fleet. Other new vessel builds underway at WCMRC shipyard include purpose-built skimming vesselsCoastal Response Vesselslanding craft and response barges.

The Trans Mountain spill response enhancements also include six new response bases and about 135 new personnel. These new resources will be located along shipping lanes in the Salish Sea, with about 70 of the new WCMRC employees and most new vessels located at bases on Vancouver Island, according to Kinder Morgan.  Following the enhancements, there will be over 80 vessels in the fleet.

All new personnel, facilities and equipment will be in place several months before the first oil tankers associated with the expansion begin calling at Burnaby’s Westridge Marine Terminal in Burrard Inlet, the company said when the enhancements were announced last June.

Evolution of Emergency Management

by Lee Spencer, Spencer Emergency Management Consulting

You would have to be living under a rock to have not heard the resounding thud of the Ontario Auditor General’s report on the state of emergency management in Canada’s most populated province hitting the desks of the emergency management community in Canada (report) . I for one was not shocked by the findings and believe most jurisdictions in Canada would see similar criticism if subject to an OAG review.

For generations, provincial level emergency management has been an after thought.  Historically staffed by second career fire/police/military retirees who were expected to be seen and not heard.  These legacy EMOs were counted on to create order in the otherwise chaotic response phase of large scale disaster and otherwise quickly to be ignored again once the situation was restored and recovery programs began to hand out government grants.

After 9/11 it was clear to elected officials that the public had an expectation of the EMO cavalry galloping in to defeat any hazard, risk or terrorist.  But the costs and the growth that would be needed to meet that expectation could not compete with the schools, hospitals, roads and bridges built to ensure tangible things could be pointed to when an election rolled around.  After all the last thing most governments want claim at election time is they added more civil servants.

So in this era of increased public expectation, EMOs were given very little new resources to modernize and adapt to the new reality.  Provincial EMOs were left to the task of preparedness and response in the modern context with resources more suited to the National Survival primordial ooze from which provincial EMOs emerged.

I am hopeful that the public shaming of our most densely populated economic engine, will lead to a national discussion of the investment required to truly meet the realities and expectations of modern emergency management.There are already several emerging national strategies that will aid in this effort, Canada’s emerging Broadband Public Safety Network and the expanding National Public Alerting Systems are modern capabilities that will go a long way to enhance capacity at even the most modest EMO.

We are also starting to see an expansion in post secondary degrees and diplomas which will lead to firmly establishing emergency management as a profession in Canada.  These emerging professionals will eventually take over the leadership roles from folks like me (second career), bringing with them the education and experience to combine the historical EMOs with modern thinking.

I know my former colleagues in the EMO’s across Canada are shifting uncomfortably at there desks at the moment waiting for their own leaders to ask how they compare to Ontario.  It would seem to me that if your not uncomfortable you just don’t get it.

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About the Author

 Lee Spencer is founder and President of Spencer Emergency Management Consulting.  The company is focused on the strategic integration of emergency management concepts towards an outcome of resilience within a community, business or government.

 

This article was first published Spencer Emergency Management Consulting e-blog site.

Events

Ontario Disaster and Emergency Management Conference

The Ontario Disaster & Emergency Management Conference is planned and developed by the Ontario Association of Emergency Managers in partnership with federal and provincial government agencies, non-governmental disaster relief organizations, and emergency management professional and student associations.

The conference delivers two full days of community networking and learning featuring twenty-eight sessions, including speakers from across North America, panel discussions and interviews focusing on lessons learned, new initiatives, best practices, and on topics such as:

  • Disaster Response and Recovery
  • Community Resilience
  • Climate Change