2000 Emergency Response Guidebook

The 2000 edition of the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is being distributed to emergency response organizations throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Transport Canada, and the Mexican Secretariat of Transport and Communications, the...


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The 2000 edition of the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is being distributed to emergency response organizations throughout the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Designed by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), Transport Canada, and the Mexican Secretariat of Transport and Communications, the ERG is intended for the use of first-responding emergency personnel to a hazardous materials incident.

This guidebook should be used only during the initial response phase of an incident (first 30 minutes). For the guide to be the greatest benefit to responders, they need to become thoroughly familiar with it before it is used during an emergency. Within the guide are white pages that explain how the book is organized, and includes first-response tips for emergency agencies.

Terrorism Response

The 380-page ERG is divided into four major color-coded sections: yellow, blue, orange and green. It contains a placard chart; numerical and alphabetical listings; action guides; protective action distances; water-reactive materials; protective clothing; a glossary; and miscellaneous information. New sections covered in the 2000 ERG include railroad car and highway tanker identification charts, Intermodal Container Hazard Identification Codes and Criminal/Terrorist Use of Chemical/ Biological Agents sections.

The new ERG is 26 pages bigger than the 1996 edition. Three pages of information on chemical and biological agents that may be used during terrorist incidents have been added. The yellow and blue sections each contain three new pages. The yellow section, which starts on page 25, contains a numerical listing of United Nations four-digit identification numbers. These numbers are located in the center of placards on vehicles transporting bulk quantities of hazardous materials. Once the four-digit number is located in the yellow section, a reference is made to an action guide in the orange section. This action guide is identified with a three-digit number that appears at the top of the page.

Some three-digit numbers in the yellow and blue sections of the guide may be followed by a “P.” This indicates that in addition to any other hazards the material may pose, it may undergo polymerization, which can be a violent explosive reaction. Polymerization information is the same for both the blue and yellow sections.

If a placard or label is displayed, but the four-digit number is unavailable and the name of the material is unknown, refer to the table of placards on pages 16 and 17. The table shows some new placards used under the DOT regulations that were not shown in the 1996 guidebook, along with some placards used in Canada and Mexico. In a circle next to each placard is an action guide number from the orange section. When a “Dangerous” placard is used, turn to guide 111 for mixed loads or unidentified cargo.

Orange action guides are grouped by hazard class and any special circumstances surrounding the shipment. A list of hazard classes is on page 13. This list corresponds with the placard table. Some classifications differ from what responders may be used to. For example, the Canadian system uses a fourth compressed-gas subdivision, 2.4 corrosive gases; DOT’s placarding and labeling system only identifies the most severe hazard of a material as determined by the agency, so the placard shows only one hazard class.

Almost all hazardous materials can present more than one hazard. Responders should be aware of this and prepare for “hidden hazards.” (The author of this column has designed a “Placard Hazard Chart” that lists potential hidden hazards of placarded and labeled materials. See the contact information at the end of this column.)

Identifying Cargoes

New pages have been added to the 2000 ERG with silhouettes of railcars and highway transportation vehicles. In a circle next to individual railcars and highway vehicles is a three-digit orange guide number that can be used if that type of container is involved in an incident and no other information is available. A “Rail Car Identification Chart” is on page 18 and a “Road Trailer Identification Chart” is on page 19. Alphabetical listings of materials found in the yellow section are located in the blue section starting on page 105. This section is used only if the name of the hazardous material is known. Both the yellow and blue sections list chemicals not contained in the 1996 guidebook. When a material listed in the yellow or blue section is highlighted, initial isolation and protective-action distances are listed in the green section, starting on page 318. Evacuation distances listed in the green section are used only if the material is not on fire. For a material that is on fire, evacuation distances are listed in the orange section.

Dangerous water-reactive materials are listed at the end of the green section. The 2000 ERG has added two new protective action information sheets to the water-reactives section between pages 360 and 363. These listings should be used only when materials are spilled in water or firefighting will cause a water reaction.

Types of toxic vapor(s) released in a water reaction with listed water-reactive materials are identified in this section. Many water reactions also produce heat and may be violent. Heat produced from a water reaction may be enough to ignite ordinary combustible materials. Names of the toxic vapors released from a water reaction must be researched in the blue and green sections for general information as well as isolation and evacuation distances.

Protective Action Guides

Protective action guides numbered from 111 to 172 start on page 186. Each protective action guide provides procedures designed to preserve the health and safety of the public and emergency responders during the initial stages of a hazmat incident. Guide 111 is the first guide in the orange section and is used for Mixed Loads or Unidentified Cargoes. Subsequent guides deal with each of the nine UN hazard classes: explosives, compressed gases, flammable liquids, flammable solids, oxidizers, poisons, radioactives, corrosives and miscellaneous hazardous materials.

Other guides provide information for materials that pose special or multiple hazards. Guide 113 is used for flammable solids that are considered wetted explosives. Guide 115 deals with flammable gases, including refrigerated liquids (cryogenics) such as hydrogen, argon and nitrogen. Guides 116 and 117 provide information on unstable flammable gases and flammable/toxic gases like hydrocyanic acid, acetylene and silane. Guide 118 lists information for flammable gases that are also corrosive, such as ethyl and methylamine. Guide 119 lists procedures for toxic/flammable gases like arsine, carbon monoxide and ethylene oxide.

Guides 120 and 121 provide information on unrefrigerated inert gases, which include nitrogen, argon and krypton. Inert gases do not readily react chemically with any other materials, but may be an asphyxiation hazard and displace the oxygen in the air. Guides 122 to 126 are compressed gases, some with hazards in addition to the pressure, such as anhydrous ammonia, chlorine, carbon dioxide and oxygen.

Guides 127 to 130 are used for flammable liquids and are separated into polar and non-polar solvents. Polar solvents are usually miscible in water, because water is also polar. Alcohols, ketones and aldehydes are polar materials. Polarity of a flammable liquid is important when choosing firefighting foam. Polar solvents involved in fire or liquid spills that must be blanketed with foam should be addressed with an alcohol-type or polar-solvent foam. Gasoline, diesel fuel and heating oil are examples of non-polar materials. They do not mix with water, but form layers, usually on the top of the water. These materials would require the use of a non-polar-solvent hydrocarbon foam.

Guides 131 and 132 include materials that are flammable liquids and also corrosive or toxic such as acrolein, normal butylamine and tetraethyl lead. Guides 133 to 139 deal with materials that are flammable solids, spontaneously combustible or water reactive. These materials may also be toxic and corrosive. Examples are, phosphorus, sulphur, matches and calcium phosphide.

Guides 140 to 150 are used for oxidizers, organic peroxides and self-reactive materials. Many peroxides and oxidizers may also be explosive, although they are not listed as such by regulatory agencies. It is the oxidizers in chemical explosives that let an explosion occur. Organic peroxides may undergo polymerization reactions that can cause violent container failures. Ammonium nitrate is an example of an oxidizer and butadiene is an organic peroxide.

Guides 151 to 157 deal with materials that are toxic as well as toxic materials that pose other hazards, such as water reactivity, corrosivity and flammability. Examples include toluene diisocyanate and organophosphate pesticides. Guides 158 and 159 are used for infectious substances and irritants. Infectious substances are living organisms that cause biological damage to the human body. Irritants such as tear gas cause irritation to certain parts of the body.

Guide 160 deals with halogenated solvents, those which contain fluorine, chlorine, bromine and iodine. Examples are trichloroethylene and 1,1,1, trichloroethylene. Guides 161 to 166 cover materials with different levels of radioactivity from low to high. Guide 167 is used for fluorine. Guide 168 deals with carbon monoxide and Guide 169 provides information on molten aluminum, which has an elevated temperature of 1,300 degrees Fahrenheit. Guide 170 is used with metals in the form of powder, dust and turnings. Guide 171 is used for substances with low or moderate hazards. Guide 172 deals with gallium and mercury, which are toxic heavy metals.

Prepare To Act

Emergency responders should become familiar with all sections of the guidebook before an incident occurs. Once an orange guide page is identified for a particular chemical, read the entire page before taking any action. Actions taken should not exceed the level of training and equipment available to response personnel.

The ERG is designed for first responders who by federal law have a limited capability to deal with hazardous materials because of limited training and lack of proper chemical protective equipment. First-responder responsibilities according to OSHA Regulation 29 CFR 1910.120 and recommendations in NFPA consensus Standard 472, are limited to recognition, identification (if safely possible), notification, isolation and protection. The information listed in the action guides of the orange section is designed to assist first responders in safely carrying out those responsibilities.

Guide pages in the orange section are divided into three major sections: Potential Hazards, Public Safety and Emergency Response. The Potential Hazards section is subdivided into two sections: Fire or Explosion, and Health Hazards. Either the Fire or Explosion or the Health Hazards may appear first in the listing on the page. Whichever is listed first indicates the most severe hazard of the material.

Public Safety is subdivided into three sections: General Information for Responders, Protective Clothing and Evacuation. Emergency Response contains three sections: Fire, which includes evacuation and isolation information; Recommended Extinguishing Agents; and when to use unmanned monitors and withdraw from the area. Also included in the orange section are spill or leak procedures, and first-aid information.

ERG 2000 has added notification of 911 to the first-aid instructions. Several guides also contain loss-of-cooling information for materials that must be maintained at certain temperatures to remain stable. This applies primarily to organic peroxides, which have Self-Accelerating Decomposition Temperatures (SADT) and may polymerize if cooling is lost.

Initial isolation and protective-action distances for highlighted materials in the yellow and blue sections are located in the green section, starting on page 318 (two new pages have been added to the 2000 ERG). Many distances were revised, both upward and downward, from the 1993 to the 1996 and 2000 editions of the ERG. The minimum isolation distance in the 1993 guide was 500 feet; in the 1996 edition the minimum isolation distance was 100 feet, or 30 meters. Minimum distances in the 2000 ERG for isolation are the same as in the 1996 edition.

Maximum isolation distances for any specific chemical in the 1993 edition were 1,500 feet; in the 1996 edition the distance was increased to 2,000 feet; and in the 2000 ERG the distance was increased to a maximum of 3,000 feet (915 meters). The minimum downwind distance in the 2000 ERG of 0.1 miles or 0.2 kilometers, for any specific chemical, is the same as in the 1996 edition. Maximum downwind distances in the 2000 ERG remain the same as for the 1996 edition, which was seven-plus miles (11-plus kilometers).

Fluctuations in the isolation and downwind protection distances occur because of improvements in computer modeling, which is used to determine the distances. Initial isolation and protective-action distances are intended for materials that present poison by inhalation hazards. Distances shown are expected to be reached by a vapor cloud of hazardous materials within the first 30 minutes of an incident.

The initial isolation area involves the area around the incident where the product is located, commonly known as the “hot zone.” Response personnel may be exposed to hazardous materials in the hot zone. The protective-action distances involve the area downwind from the spill or release. If materials are on fire, additional information on isolation and downwind-protection distances must be obtained from the orange section or another reliable source.

A graphic showing the setup of initial isolation and protective action guide distances is shown on pages 316 and 317 of the green section. Before this section is used, however, the UN number or the name of the product should be identified, the orange action guide read and information on wind direction obtained.

Distances in the green section are divided into small spills and large spills. A small spill involves a single individual package or container, usually 55 gallons or less in capacity. A large spill involves a large package or container, or multiple small packages or containers. Spills are further divided into day and night spills. Day is considered anytime between sunrise and sunset, and night anytime between sunset and sunrise. Isolation distances and downwind protection distances are identified for day and night spills because the air is more stable at night and vapor clouds will travel farther at night.

Shipping Papers

Inside the front cover of the 2000 ERG is an example of the type of information found on the shipping papers. Also shown is the location of the UN number on a placard. One important change regarding shipping papers occurred in the 1993 ERG and involves the requirement for an emergency telephone number that must appear at the top of shipping papers. If shipping papers have been located, the emergency contact number should be used by emergency responders first when trying to gain information about the product. If the shipping papers are not available, then the 24-hour Chemtrec number (800-424-9300) should be used.

Highway shipping papers are in the cab of a motor vehicle. Railroad shipping papers are in the possession of the train crew. Marine shipping papers are in a “mail box” on a barge or in a holder on the bridge of a tugboat or ship. Air transportation shipping papers are in the cockpit or in the pilot’s possession.

Other information found on shipping papers includes the number of packages, proper shipping name, hazard class number, UN number, packing group and weight of the shipment. (The weight is listed in the metric system, which is also used in the green section for distances under isolation and downwind protection. Response personnel should have a basic understanding of the metric system of weights and measures.)

Along with the shipping papers, or attached to them, must be information that outlines the hazards of the product that can be used in the mitigation of a hazmat emergency. This requirement can be satisfied by attaching a guide page to the papers or having a copy of the ERG available for use by emergency responders. On page 380 is a list of emergency-response telephone numbers for Canada, Mexico, Brazil and the U.S. Pages 7-9 contain information on who to notify during a hazmat incident, including Chemtrec and the National Response Center (NRC).

If the material spilled is a marine pollutant, or if oil products are spilled on the water, the NRC should be notified. “RQ” on shipping papers means there is a reportable quantity of the hazardous material and, if it is spilled, the NRC must be contacted in addition to any other notifications made. The NRC has a 24-hour number, 800-424-8802. NRC is the notification, communications, technical assistance, and coordination center for the National Response Team (NRT), and it can provide much of the same information on chemicals that Chemtrec does through its OM-TADS database. NRC can also provide facilities to conduct conference calls with over 20 different parties that can be transmitted to the incident scene through its telephone system. NRC should also be contacted to report chemical or biological terrorist attacks.

Page 380 provides information day or night on emergencies involving military shipments. Two contact numbers are provided: for explosives or ammunition incidents call 703-697-0218 (collect calls are accepted); all other dangerous-goods incidents should be referred to 800-851-8061. These numbers are for emergencies only.

The 2000 ERG also contains a glossary of terms on pages 371 to 377. Terms dealing with terrorist incidents using chemical and biological agents have been added.

What ERG Is Not

The ERG is a valuable tool to be used to identify hazardous materials and determine actions to be taken by first responders. Just as first responders are limited in what they can do at the scene of a hazmat emergency, the ERG is limited in the amount of information it provides. It was not intended to be used during the mitigation phase of the incident and therefore should not be used as one of the reference materials selected to determine mitigation methods.

Free copies of the ERG are provided by the DOT to all fire, police, EMS and other emergency response organizations through a selected agency in each state. Your state agency can be determined by contacting the DOT Office of Hazardous Materials Transportation Research and Special Programs (RSPA) at 202-366-0656. State contacts are also listed on the 2000 ERG website at . Copies are also available for a fee from the American Trucking Association and private companies.

The author has developed a training course for the 2000 ERG that is available in PowerPoint CD-ROM version or 35-mm slide versions. Each version contains an instructor guide, a student manual, a list of state ERG contacts, a list of private-sector sources for the response guide, a course certificate template, a final exam and a copy of the guidebook. For information about the “Placard Hazard Chart” or the ERG training course contact Robert Burke, 104 4th Ave. SE, Glen Burnie, MD 21061 (fax 410-760-3864).


Robert Burke, a Firehouse® contributing editor, is the fire marshal for the University of Maryland. He is a certified Hazardous Materials Specialist, and has served on state and county hazmat response teams. Burke is a veteran of over 18 years in the fire service, in career and volunteer fire departments, having attained the ranks of lieutenant and assistant chief, and served as deputy state fire marshal. He has an associate’s degree in fire protection technology and a bachelor’s degree in fire science, and is pursuing a master’s degree in public administration. Burke is an adjunct instructor at the National Fire Academy. He is the author of the books Hazardous Materials Chemistry For Emergency Responders, published in 1997, and Counter-Terrorism For Emergency Responders, published in 1999. Burke can be reached on the Internet at robert.burke@worldnet.att.net.

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