Chemical Hazards

chemical hazards spray in a bottle, lead poisoning from peeling wall paper, package being moved by people in hazmat suits,

Chemical substances that have the ability to create a physical or health hazard are considered hazardous.  Due to their properties chemical hazardous substances may be, but are not limited to being toxic, explosive, flammable, self-reactive, oxidizing, or corrosive. Exposure to these substances by different routes including inhalation, dermal absorption, or ingestion can lead to adverse health effects, enhancing the need to know about the hazards associated to these substances beforehand.

Chemical agent information is needed for emergency response and recovery workers to appropriately plan for risks resulting from possible chemical incidents. Several organizations have developed information databases, including short-term and long-term criteria, each with specific purposes, exposure scenarios, and severity of adverse health effects considered in their development.

Databases offer their users the possibility to consult by name, the properties, physical descriptions, exposure routes, target organs, associated symptoms in case of exposure, personal protection recommendations, standards, and first aid for a particular chemical.

This webpage offers a variety of resources containing chemical agent information open to employers and workers to consult and plan appropriately for risks of exposure to potential hazardous chemicals.

The following databases provide detailed information on a variety of chemical agents associated with emergency response. Information provided includes types of agents, agent characteristics, physical and chemical properties, CAS, common names, decontamination recommendations, health effects, occupational exposure limits, symptoms of exposure, and first aid recommendations depending on the type of chemical agent.

Emergency preparedness and Response databases

  • The following database was developed by NIOSH for the emergency response community. The Emergency response safety and health database (ERSH-DB) provides information associated to potential hazards emergency response and recovery workers might find when responding to a terrorist event. The data base contains accurate and concise information on high-priority chemical, biological and radiological agents and provides multiple search fields such as agent category, characteristics, name, long-term implications, symptoms, and personal protective equipment.
    The Emergency Response Safety and Health Database (ERSH-DB)
  • The following website presents a list of chemical agents organized by alphabetically order presenting facts of each agent, descriptions of the chemicals, emergency response information from CDC related to specific chemical agents, toxic syndrome descriptions, and emergency response cards containing decontamination, disposal, use of personal protective equipment, and sampling information.
    Public Health Emergency Preparedness and Response (CDC) Chemical Agents List A-Z
  • The Pocket Guide is a source of general industrial hygiene information that contains data of several hundred chemicals and hazards that can be potentially found in the work environment. Key data provided for each substance includes name (synonyms, trade names), structure, formula, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) Numbers, conversion factors, exposure limits, chemical and physical properties, measurement methods, personal protection, respirator recommendations, symptoms, concentrations that are immediately dangerous to life or health (IDLH), and first aid.
    NIOSH Pocket Guide to Chemical Hazards
  • The International Chemical Safety Cards offer essential health and safety information on chemicals to promote their safe use. They are intended to be used by workers and employers as a clear communication tool. The information provided in these cards includes identity of the chemical, physical and chemical properties and hazards, fire and explosion hazards, health hazards and how to prevent them, first aid, spillage disposal, storage and packaging, and classification and labelling.
    International Chemical Safety Cards
  • The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) produces “toxicological profiles” for hazardous substances that have been found in National Priorities List (NPL) sites. These profiles are a compilation of toxicological information available on a particular substance. Besides the general information such as chemical and physical information, the profile includes health effects, toxicokinetics, susceptible populations, biomarkers, potential of human exposure, regulations, and advisories.
    ATSDR profiles
  • The ATSDR ToxFAQs™ is a series of summaries about hazardous substances containing toxicological information for each particular chemical substance. Each fact sheet provides information about potential exposure routes to a chemical, describes the substance and its implications in the environment and in human health. Additionally provides information regarding its carcinogenic potential and describes recommendations to protect human health. This document serves as a quick and easy guide to understand the use and exposure to chemical substances.
  • The interaction profiles are a series of documents developed for certain priority mixtures. The purpose of the Interaction Profile is to evaluate toxicology data available for the mixture (if available) and on the joint toxic action of the chemicals in the mixture, aiming to recommend approaches for the exposure-based assessment of the potential hazard to public health. These interaction profiles provide an explanation of the mixture of concern and how each component of the mixture can affect human health depending on their individual chemical and physical properties as well as their interaction.
    Toxicology Interaction Profiles
  • Acute Exposure Guideline levels (AEGL) are Environmental Protection Agency recommended criteria intended to describe the potential health effects different types of exposures could have in human health. This levels include the risks of exposure resulting from once-in-a-lifetime or rare exposures to airborne chemicals. The National Advisory Committee for the Development of Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Hazardous Substances (AEGL Committee) is involved in developing these guidelines to help both national and local authorities, as well as private companies, deal with emergencies involving spills, or other catastrophic exposures. The following page provides an overview of AEGLs, presents chemical priority lists and lists AEGLs by chemical name, CAS number or AEGL status.
    Acute Exposure Guideline Levels (AEGLs)

In case of an emergency involving chemical substances guidance is necessary to indicate emergency response and recovery workers how to proceed and protect themselves from unintended exposures. The following resources are aimed to provide information and guidance related to the safe management of chemical substances. These resources include policies such as the NIOSH Chemical carcinogen policy, chemical topic pages addressing a list of different chemicals, databases and tools providing information about specific agents and recommendations for a safe approach, risk assessment resources to estimate exposure hazards and health risks, engineering controls, research and recommendations on the use of personal protective equipment, first aid, and emergency response information for incidents involving leaks, and spills.

Chemical safety guidance

  • This web page provides links to NIOSH chemical topic pages and other resources on chemical safety. The available resources include publications and products related to the safe management of chemicals, guidance on the estimation of workplace health risks and exposures, ongoing research, engineering controls and tools for the safe manipulation of chemicals in the workplace.
    NIOSH Chemical Safety Topic Page

Emergency response guidance

  • This guidebook was developed for first responders to use during the initial phase of a dangerous goods/hazardous materials transportation incident. It is intended for firefighters, police, and other emergency services personnel who may be the first to arrive at the scene of a transportation incident involving a hazardous material.
    Emergency Response Guidebook (Department of Transportation)

Medical management guidance

  • This resource is a web-based guide for identification of chemical exposures during emergency response incidents along with subsequent medical treatment options. The purpose of this guide is to mitigate chemical exposure casualties for civilians, workers, military personnel, emergency responders, and hospital This webpage offers a series of recommendations for first responders, healthcare providers, mental health professionals, response planners and trainers on how to prepare, response assess the scene, conduct triage, explains types of emergencies, provides preparatory checklists for arriving in scene, and personal protection and equipment checklists. Resources for conducting agent-specific triage, assessment and provide potential treatment are also included. Different substances are covered including ammonia, chlorine, hydrogen cyanide, mustard agents, phosgene, and other hazardous chemicals. The dermal eToolkit is a tool intended to assist workers when assessing the hazards associated with dermal contact with chemicals. This tool is also available in the chemical agent page and provides information across all incident phases regarding health effects, exposure assessment, selection of control measures, and medical management.
    Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management [CHEMM]External

Additional Resources

This report describes the implications a release of vinyl chloride had in responders after a trail derailment in New Jersey. The reports mentions some health effects emergency responders experienced during the incident, some of the symptoms include headaches and upper respiratory symptoms. The report describes respiratory protection used to protect responders and the types of instruction and training they had.

The Paulsboro Responder Survey is available as a guidance resource for responders. It explains the purpose for administering the survey, what topics the survey will address, and how long the survey will take to complete. This survey was administered to emergency personnel who responded to the event in order to assess experiences from the train derailment, responder health before and after the vinyl chloride release, and details related to job training.