Hazmat Studies: 2012 ERG: A Vital Resource For First Responders

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T he 2012 edition of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) has been released, featuring new information about gases, placarding and responses to incidents involving boiling liquid expanding vapor explosions (BLEVEs) and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Copies of the ERG are being distributed free of charge to designated state coordinators, which will forward them to emergency response organizations. A list of state coordinators is posted at www.dot.gov. Copies also are available from the U.S. Government Printing Office and private suppliers for a charge.

Designed by the DOT, Transport Canada and the Mexican Secretariat of Transport and Communications with the collaboration of CIQUIME (Centro de Informacion Quimica para Emergencias) of Argentina, the ERG is intended for the use of first-responding emergency personnel during the initial phase of a hazardous materials or terrorist incident, which is generally before the arrival of a hazardous materials team or other technician-level personnel. It is not intended to be used during the mitigation phase.

While hazmat teams may find some of the information in the guidebook useful, such as isolation and evacuation distances, it is intended to help first responders quickly identify the general hazards of materials involved in incidents and protect themselves and the public. The ERG is only one source of information. Others include the 24-hour contacts CHEMTREC (1-800-424-9300), National Response Center (NRC) (1-800-424-8802), CHEM-TEL (1-888-255-3924), INFOTRAC (1-800-535-5053), 3E Company (1-800-451-8346), National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222), shipping papers and Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS).

To gain the greatest benefit from the ERG, responders should become thoroughly familiar with using the book before it is used during an actual emergency. U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (29 CFR) 1910.120 and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (40 CFR) Part 311 both require that first responders be trained on the use of the ERG.

The 2012 ERG is divided into four major color-coded sections: yellow, blue, orange and green. Major sections include a Placard Chart; Railcar and Road Trailer Charts; Yellow Numerical and Blue Alphabetical listings; Orange Action Guides; Green Table 1 Protective Action Distances; Green Table 2 Water Reactive Materials That Produce Toxic Gases; a new Table 3 Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances for Different Quantities of Six Common Gases; protective clothing; a glossary; information about terrorist response and miscellaneous information. Also, three new placards have been added to the Placard Chart and additional information is provided in the Pipeline Transportation section.

Within the front and back of the ERG are white pages that explain how the book is organized and include first-response tips. White-page information has been reorganized from previous editions and fire- and spill-control measures have been split into two separate sections starting on page 363.

The Fire Control section in the guide’s white pages features a new BLEVE chart and a new two-page BLEVE information section. Major headings in this section include Main Hazards and Safety Precautions.

The five-page section covering Criminal/Terrorist Use of Chemical/Biological (CB) Agents is designed to provide information to responders during the preliminary assessment of a potential terrorist incident involving chemical or biological agents. A list of observable indicators of the use and/or presence of a CB agent is provided on pages 368-372.

New for the 2012 edition is an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Safe Standoff Distance Chart. It provides 10 threat descriptions for explosives and provides an Explosives Mass (TNT Equivalent), Building Evacuation Distance and Outdoor Evacuation Distance for each type of threat. The second part of the chart provides information for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) containers that may be used by terrorists. The chart provides five threat descriptions for LPG, LPG Mass/Volume, Fireball Diameter and Evacuation Distance. This chart could also be used by first responders for non-terrorist incidents involving LPG.


Emergency contacts

Notifications that must be made by first responders can be placed into three general categories: Organization/Agency, Emergency Response Telephone Number and National Assistance. The appropriate national resources to notify during a hazmat incident are identified on pages 388-389. If the material spilled is a marine pollutant or if oil products are spilled on water, the National Response Center (NRC) should be notified. “RQ” listed on shipping papers means the material is a reportable quantity of a hazardous material and if spilled, the NRC must be contacted in addition to any other notifications made. The NRC is the notification, communications, technical assistance and coordination center for the National Response Team (NRT). It can provide much of the same information on chemicals that CHEMTREC does through its OM-TADS database. NRC should also be contacted to report chemical or biological terrorist attacks. A glossary on pages 374-382 includes three new terms for 2012.

Inside the front cover is an example of the type of information found on shipping papers. Responders should use the emergency contact number located in the upper left corner of the papers first when trying to gain information about a product. If shipping papers are not available, the 24-hour CHEMTREC number or other emergency contact numbers in the book should be used. 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. Attaching an Orange Guide page to the papers or having a copy of the ERG available satisfies this requirement.

Pipeline transportation

Hazardous materials are transported in North America through millions of miles of underground pipelines. Products commonly transported through pipeline systems include natural gas, crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. Although the pipelines are buried, aboveground structures and signs indicate their presence. If a leak is discovered, identify the emergency telephone number for the company located on an aboveground pipeline marker and then call that number as well as 911.

If you know the material involved, identify the three-digit guide number by looking up the name in the alphabetical list (blue-bordered pages) and then use the three-digit guide number to consult the recommendations outlined. This section has been expanded in the 2012 ERG. An additional sign has been included and additional response information has been provided for gas and liquid pipeline emergencies. The information is organized into Rupture and Leak Indicators, Response Actions and Protective Actions.

Only when a four-digit identification number is unavailable and the name of the material is unknown should responders refer to the table of placards on pages 6 and 7 for placards and labels displayed on containers and transportation vehicles. The placard table shows three new placards used under the DOT regulations.

One new placard is with the Class 6 Poison placards, in particular Infectious Substances, and two have been added to the Miscellaneous Dangerous Goods placards. In a circle next to each placard on the table is an action-guide number from the orange section that is used for materials displaying the placard shown. The orange-guide reference for anhydrous ammonia has been changed from 123 to 125. For 1.6 explosives the placards have been added to the 1.4 placards. This move changes the orange guide for 1.6 explosives from 112 to 114.

If reference to a guidebook page cannot be found and the incident is believed to involve Dangerous Goods, use guide 111 until additional information becomes available. When a Dangerous placard is displayed, guide 111 is used for mixed loads or unidentified cargo. A listing of hazard classes is on page 4. This listing corresponds with the hazard classes represented on the placard table. If there are additional Dangerous Goods in the vehicle, additional placards must be provided.


Railcars and road trailers

A wide variety of both railcars and road trailers transport liquids, compressed gases, liquefied compressed gases, refrigerated liquids, flammable solids and molten solids. While the container type may indicate the physical state of the material inside, more identification is needed concerning the product before any mitigation efforts are initiated. The information presented in the 2012 ERG is designed to give responders a very generic idea of the hazards associated with certain bulk transportation containers by the listings on the Rail Car and Road Trailer charts. Orange Guide page numbers have been provided for use depending on the type of container involved in an incident. These pages should be used only when no other information is available about the materials in the container.


Yellow Section

The Yellow Section, which starts on page 20, contains a numerical listing of United Nations four-digit identification numbers that are found on placards on vehicles transporting bulk quantities of hazardous materials. Once the four-digit number is located in the Yellow Section, reference is made to an action guide located in the Orange Section. This action guide is identified with a three-digit number that appears at the top of the Orange pages. Three-digit numbers located in the Yellow and Blue Sections may be followed by a P to indicate that in addition to other hazards, the material may undergo a violent explosive reaction called polymerization.


Blue Section

Alphabetical listings of the same materials found in the Yellow Section are in the Blue Section. This section is used only if the name of the hazardous material is known. Both the Yellow and Blue Sections reflect the addition of chemicals not contained in the 2008 guidebook.

When a material listed in the Yellow or Blue Section is highlighted in green, initial isolation and protective action distances for that chemical are listed in the Green Section. The evacuation distances in the Green Section are used only if a material is not on fire. If a material is on fire, consult the evacuation distances listed in the Orange Section.


Orange Section

Protective action guides numbered 111 to 172 start on page 158. Each protective action guide provides procedures designed to preserve the health and safety of the public and emergency response personnel during the initial stages of a hazmat incident. The Orange Section is divided into Potential Hazards, Public Safety and Emergency Response. Potential Hazards is subdivided into two sections – fire or explosion and health hazards. Whichever one is listed first indicates the most severe hazard of the material in question. Public Safety is divided into General Information for Responders, Protective Clothing and Evacuation. Emergency Response is divided into Fire, which includes Evacuation and Isolation; Recommended Extinguishing Agents; and when to use Unmanned Monitors and Withdraw from the area.


Green Section

Initial isolation and protective action distances for highlighted materials in the Yellow and Blue Sections are located in the Green Section, starting on page 290. Table 1 contains the Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances that can be found on pages 290-343. The Green Section lists Table 1 materials by UN four-digit ID number and chemical name. Initial evacuation and protective action distances have been “tuned up,” meaning some values differ from those in the 2008 ERG. Fluctuations in the isolation and downwind protection distances occur because of improvements in the computer modeling used to determine the distances. If highlighted materials in the Yellow or Blue Sections are on fire, immediately go to the Orange Section to determine isolation and evacuation distances. A graphic showing the setup of initial isolation and protective action guide distances is shown on pages 290 and 291 of the Green Section.

When a material in the Yellow or Blue Section is highlighted and the material is not on fire, responders should go directly to the Green Section to obtain isolation and evacuation distances. Information on wind direction should be obtained as soon as possible.

Distances in the Green Section are divided into small spills and large spills. A small spill consists of a single package or container usually 55 gallons or less in capacity. Large spills involve a large package or container or multiple small packages or containers. Spills are further divided into day and night. Day spills are considered any time between sunrise and sunset and night spills anytime between sunset and sunrise. Isolation distances and downwind protection distances are identified for both day and night spills. This is done because the air is more stable at night and the vapor clouds will travel farther than during the day.

Table 2 materials listed in the Green Section are Water Reactive Materials Which Produce Toxic Gases. Materials are also listed by UN four-digit ID number and chemical name. Also listed are the Toxic Inhalation Hazard (TIH) materials produced by contact of the original product with water. A TIH material is a liquid that produces a vapor or a gas and is known to be so hazardous to humans that it poses a hazard to health during transportation or, in the absence of adequate data on human toxicity, is presumed to be toxic to humans based on tests conducted using laboratory animals. A TIH has an LC50 value of not more than 5,000 ppm. The LC50 is the lethal concentration to 50% of the laboratory animals tested. Hazard zones have been assigned to TIH materials in an attempt to classify the severity of the inhalation hazard in terms of LC50.

Table 2 Water Reactive Section 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 here. Chemical names of toxic vapors released from a water reaction must be researched in the Blue and Green Sections to determine what Orange Section page to use. Isolation and evacuation distance should then be determined from the Orange or Green Sections.

Also new to the 2012 ERG is Table 3, titled Initial Action and Protective Action Distances for Different Quantities of Six Common TIH Gases. Those gases are ammonia, chlorine, ethylene oxide, hydrogen chloride and hydrogen chloride refrigerated liquid, hydrogen fluoride and sulfur dioxide.


The author has developed a training course for the 2012 ERG that is available in a PowerPoint CD-ROM version. In addition to PowerPoint slides, each training CD contains an electronic version of the ERG for PCs, DOT Chart 14, Burke Placard Hazard Chart, Instructor Guide, Student Manual, lists of state ERG coordinators and private-sector sources, a course certificate template and a final exam. Information may be obtained at robert.burke@windstream.net or www.hazardousmaterialspage.com. n