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Hazardous Materials Preparedness

Hazardous Materials Preparedness, from Washington Military Department, Division of Emergency Management

Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT)

As many as 500,000 products pose physical or health hazards and can be defined as hazardous materials. The risk of a Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT) incident in Whatcom County is great. Over ten billion pounds of hazardous materials are shipped, stored, processed, or manufactured in or through the county each year. On the average, the Division of Emergency Management is involved in approximately 50 HAZMAT related incidents annually. Accidents involving toxic substances have occurred in communities across the country. For example, a train derailment near Marysville, Washington resulted in hazardous materials fire and the evacuation of over 100 homes. Because HAZMAT incidents occur suddenly and generally without warning it pays to know what to do ahead of time.


  • Ask your local fire department about emergency warning procedures.
  • Find out precise information about where reportable quantities of extremely hazardous substances are stored and where they are used. Specific information for most communities is available from the Washington Department of Ecology's Hazardous Sites List. Additional detailed information is available from the Right-To-Know Network.
  • Ask your Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) about community plans for responding to hazardous materials accidents.
  • Determine how close you are to freeways, railroads or factories which may produce or transport toxic materials.
  • Be prepared to evacuate.
  • Have materials available to seal off your residence from airborne contamination.


  • If you are a witness - call 911 or your local fire department.
  • If you hear a warning signal - listen to local radio or television stations for further information. Follow all instructions.
  • Stay away from the incident site to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • If caught outside - stay upstream, uphill or upwind. Try to go one-half mile (10 city blocks) from the danger area.
  • If you are in a car - close windows and shut off ventilation. Evacuate if told to do so.
  • If local officials say there is time, close all windows, shut vents, and turn off attic fans and other ventilation systems to minimize contamination.
  • To reduce the possibility of toxic vapors entering your home, seal all entry routes as efficiently as possible.
  • If an explosion is imminent - close drapes, curtains and shades.
  • If you suspect gas or vapor contamination - take shallow breaths through a cloth or towel.
  • Avoid contact with any spilled liquid materials, airborne mist or condensed solid chemical materials.
  • Do not eat or drink any food or water that may have been contaminated.

After a Hazmat Incident

  • Seek medical help for unusual symptoms.
  • If medical help is not immediately available and you suspect contamination - remove all clothing and shower thoroughly.
  • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers without allowing them to contact other materials: get directions for proper disposal.
  • Advise others of your possible contamination.
  • Get direction from local authorities on how to clean up your land and property.
  • Return home only when directed to do so. Upon returning home, ventilate the house.
  • Report lingering vapors or other hazards.

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