Protect Yourself From Chemicals Released During a Natural Disaster

Three bright blue chemical containers for corrosive liquids with warning labels

During emergencies such as hurricanes and floods, household, medical, and industrial chemicals can be released into the environment.

Protect yourself and your home by taking these steps:
  • Stay out of floodwater. It can contain human and livestock waste, coal ash , and other contaminants that can lead to illness.
  • Call 911 or the national poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect someone has been poisoned by a chemical.
  • Call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 if you suspect a pet has been poisoned by a chemical.
  • Call local authorities or the National Response CenterExternal at 1-800-424-8802 to report oil and chemical spills, abandoned containers, or other containers you suspect may contain chemicals. Do not touch or move unknown containers.
  • Listen to announcements or alerts from authorities about chemical safety and disposal issues.
  • Listen to local announcements for guidance on what to do in the event of a chemical release. You may need to evacuate or stay inside (shelter in place) until you are told it is safe to leave.
  • Wash skin that may have come into contact with chemicals or floodwater with soap and clean water as soon as possible. You may need to remove and dispose of your clothing, then decontaminate yourself to reduce or remove the chemical so it is no longer a hazard.

For more information on protecting yourself during clean-up work after a hurricane or flood, see Clean Up after a Disaster and Response Worker Health and Safety.

PDF cover graphic for Debris removal guidelines External

Graphic source: National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Protecting yourself while removing post-disaster debris from your home or businessExternal [PDF - 1.29 MB]

Dispose of your waste safely

To expedite debris removal,

  • Separate yard waste, hazardous chemical waste, and household waste.
  • Follow guidance of local officials when preparing waste for pickup.

You can be exposed to chemicals from everyday items such as household cleaners, paints, fertilizers, and pesticides that may spill or leak and cause a fire during an emergency.

  • Listen to local officials to find out how to safely get rid of cleaning products and chemicals in your area.
  • Do not empty chemical container contents onto the ground, into drains, or into waterways.
  • Be alert for leaking containers and reactive household chemicals, such as caustic drain cleaners and chlorine bleach.
  • Keep children and pets away from stored, leaking, and spilled chemicals.
  • Leave damaged or unlabeled chemical containers undisturbed whenever possible.
  • Follow your local solid waste authority’s guidance for disposal of broken, leaking, empty, or unlabeled chemical containers. Do not throw them away with your regular trash.
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