Hazardous Materials "Standard of Care"

Chemicals and compounds have been known to exist for centuries. Emergency responders have dealt with them for many years and often referred to them as chemicals or by their common chemical names, if known, such as gasoline, propane, ammonium nitrate...


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Chemicals and compounds have been known to exist for centuries. Emergency responders have dealt with them for many years and often referred to them as chemicals or by their common chemical names, if known, such as gasoline, propane, ammonium nitrate, chlorine and ammonia, to name a few.

Initially, most of the knowledge gained about chemical responses came from experience, some good and some bad. Incidents have occurred over the years that resulted in the deaths and injuries of emergency response personnel operating at the scenes of chemical incidents – Texas City, TX (ammonium nitrate); Crescent City, IL (propane); Waverly, TN (liquefied petroleum gas); Kingman, AZ (propane); Kansas City, MO (gasoline); and West, TX (ammonium nitrate).

On Dec. 3, 1984, Bhopal, India, experienced a release of approximately 40 metric tons of methyl isocyanate (MIC) at a Union Carbide pesticide plant. More than 100,000 people were injured and 3,000 people were killed, and many more have died from the long-term effects. Lessons learned from these and other responses have shown that the effects of chemical incidents can be catastrophic. There are, however, options for choosing operational approaches and emergency responders need competency to safely and effectively operate at the scene of a chemical incident.

 

Hazards defined

The modern-day coinage of the term “hazardous material” occurred in the mid-1970s, when the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) established a definition of hazardous material. DOT began the first major regulation of hazardous materials in transportation, including a hazard-class and placard and label system for identifying hazardous materials. As other federal agencies began developing regulations dealing with hazardous materials storage and use, different names were also created. The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) both refer to hazardous materials as “hazardous substances.” The EPA also regulates chemicals that no longer have a commercial value.

When chemicals are no longer useful for their intended purpose, they become hazardous waste. Hazardous waste is regulated in the workplaces where it is generated, during transportation to a disposal site and when it is disposed of. For example, gasoline, when transported, is a hazardous material regulated by the DOT. When a tanker offloads gasoline into an underground storage tank at a gasoline station, it becomes a hazardous substance regulated by the EPA and OSHA. If any gasoline is spilled on the ground during the offloading, it would become hazardous waste, regulated by OSHA, EPA and DOT. There are different names for the same gasoline, depending on whether it was transported, in fixed storage or spilled. For the purposes of this column, we will use the term “hazardous material” interchangeably with all other agency terminology.

After the Bhopal incident, the U.S. Congress passed the Emergency Planning and Community Right-To-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA), also known as the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA). Congress was concerned that such an incident could happen here. Additionally, Congress was also concerned about the level of preparedness and training available to deal with an incident of the magnitude of Bhopal. With the passage of this important legislation, the federal government for the first time mandated levels of training and competency for emergency responders to hazardous materials releases.

 

How the system works

Laws are enacted by a legislative body, such as Congress, state legislatures, county governing boards and local city councils and boards. These legislative bodies have no means to enforce the laws they pass. If laws must be enforced, that task is passed on to an enforcement or regulatory agency that forms procedures or regulations to implement the law. On the federal level, laws that concern hazardous materials are generally passed on to OSHA, EPA or DOT.

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