Do You Have an Emergency Involving Chemicals? CHEMTREC Celebrates 30 Years of Service

CHEMTREC, the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center, began operations on Sept. 5, 1971. CHEMTREC is a 24-hour emergency center that was started as a service of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), now known as the American Chemistry Council...


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CHEMTREC, the Chemical Transportation Emergency Center, began operations on Sept. 5, 1971. CHEMTREC is a 24-hour emergency center that was started as a service of the Chemical Manufacturers Association (CMA), now known as the American Chemistry Council. The first center was located in downtown Washington, D.C. It is now located across the Potomac River in Arlington, VA.

In addition to its chemical emergency call center, CHEMTREC provides training programs, MEDTREC (for chemical medical information), Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and CHEMNET, an industry chemical emergency mutual aid system.

Emergency Call Center

CHEMTREC provides emergency chemical information to emergency responders nationwide. Its primary mission "is to provide technical information about products involved, guidance on how to protect themselves and the public, and what initial action is required to mitigate the incident." CHEMTREC strives to provide this and other information quickly and accurately 24 hours a day. Managing Director Carl Reynolds is available to answer questions at 703-741-5524.

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Photo by Robert Burke
CHEMTREC can fax Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) to an incident scene for immediate use by emergency responders.

Emergency response organizations do not have to be registered with CHEMTREC to use its services. Information and assistance are provided free of charge as a public service to emergency response organizations.

Recent expansions of the center have taken place due to increased call volume. Additional staff has been added along with new technology to support operations. Backup power is provided for the center and protocols are in place for relocating the center in an emergency. One call to 800-424-9300 can put responders in touch with the company that manufactured a chemical, the shipper, provide MSDS, activate, and send a chemical company or industry mutual aid hazmat response team to the scene. CHEMTREC can also provide on-scene responders with information on over one million chemicals. Procedures are in place for calls originating from non-English-speaking callers. Specialized assistance from chemists can be obtained from its extensive database of chemical industry contacts. Emergency collect calls are accepted, and all calls are recorded.

In the beginning, CHEMTREC Communicators, as they were called, were merely conveyers of information. Many were former military personnel who were recruited because of their ability to keep cool during crises. Chemical data was kept in a sophisticated card file system and the Communicator would read the information on the card with little if any additional input. They were not required to have any expertise in the areas of hazardous materials or emergency response.

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Photo by Robert Burke
The CHEMTREC emergency call center in Arlington, VA, provides 24-hour information concerning hazardous materials.

Today's version of the Communicator is the Emergency Services Specialist (ESS), highly trained and qualified in hazardous materials and emergency response. ESS personnel come from the emergency services with experience in emergency response, firefighting, emergency medical services, military emergencies and related fields. The old card file system has been replaced with a computerized database and Emergency Services Specialists provide additional information and recommendations based on their knowledge and experience dealing with hazmat emergencies.

CHEMTREC can provide technical information directly to the scene of a hazmat incident, including faxed information and MSDS from its 2.8 million-document library. CHEMTREC also provides information to emergency medical personnel concerning chemical exposure treatment. ESS personnel gather information about the incident, product and exposure, then provide medical treatment information from the MSDS.

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