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 can also link medical personnel at the emergency room with medical specialists from the shipper or PROSAR, an information company providing health, safety and toxicology consulting with 24-hour access. (Additional information about PROSAR can be obtained on the web at www.prosarcorp.com.)

In order for CHEMTREC to provide information to the response scene in a timely manner, responders must gather and have available information needed by CHEMTREC before making a call to them. The following is some of the information needed.

  • Caller's name and rank or title.
  • Caller's company or organization.
  • Caller's location.
  • At least one callback number, with the area code.
  • Dispatch center number, if available.
  • Fax number.
  • Location of incident/weather conditions.
  • Time incident occurred.
  • Type or description of container/package.
  • Container numbers and /or markings.
  • Brief description of incident and actions taken.
  • Number and type of injuries/exposures.
  • Amount of product(s) involved and released.
  • Is there specific information needed as a priority?
  • Are any industry representatives on the scene or have any been contacted?

If shipping papers have been obtained, the following additional information is requested by CHEMTREC:

  • UN/NA Identification Number, (Placard) or STCC number of the products.
  • Chemical name, product(s) name or, a trade name.
  • Carrier name.
  • Shipper and point of origin.
  • Consignee and destination.

Not all of the incidents received by CHEMTREC are massive train derailments or tank truck accidents. As many as 50% of the incidents called into the emergency center involve five gallons or less of product. Below are examples of two typical and one unusual incident handled by the call center. (Sample CHEMTREC incidents are from the User's Guide for Emergency Responders.)

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Photo by Robert Burke
A card file system was used when CHEMTREC opened in 1971.

Incident 1 - CHEMTREC received a call from a railroad reporting a train derailment. The report stated that six cars containing sulfuric acid and two empty cars that had carried naphtha/xylene mixture and silicon tetrachloride were involved. An unknown amount of product was reported to be leaking from the rail cars. Adverse weather conditions in the area were hampering response and evaluation of the incident. CHEMTREC faxed MSDS, then discussed the situation with the local fire department and the nearest poison control center. CHEMTREC also conferenced the shippers with the fire department and railroad representatives.

Incident 2 - The trucking company dispatcher called in to report that an unknown product was leaking out from the trailer at a truck stop in Arizona. The local fire department was notified and contacted CHEMTREC for assistance identifying the products in the trailer. As there were multiple shippers' products on board, CHEMTREC asked that the bill of lading be faxed to the Emergency Call Center. The shipping papers received indicated that two shippers were involved, shipping hydrofluoric acid solutions and ethylene glycol. The ESS contacted each shipper, requesting contact with the reporting carrier's dispatcher. In turn, shippers called back to advice that their respective emergency coordinators had made contact and that product information had been supplied to responders.

Incident 3 - While the author was visiting CHEMTREC to obtain information for this column, a call was received from a state National Guard and logged by an ESS. An auctioneer found a container marked as chemical weapon gas. The container was also marked "Manufactured by Lake Erie Chemical." A bomb squad had already entered the building and was able to view the container. The container was described as a plastic cylindrical object approximately 15 inches in length. There were two silver vials inside with a percussion cap. There was a brown opaque liquid in the vials. Cotton padding was in place between the two vials. The container was marked as "Lot 2250."