Chemical emergencies are a fact of modern life. Whether they result from road accidents or terrorist attack, or occur in the workplace, we all need to know the basics of what to do.
Most chemical emergencies are preventable.
In the home, potentially dangerous chemicals are kept in kitchens, medicine cabinets and garages – and most chemical accidents occur in our homes.
The most common home chemical emergencies involve children taking medicines. So keep all medicines, cleaning products and other household chemicals out of sight and out of reach.
Never mix products – some combinations, like ammonia and bleach, can create toxic gases. Always read the directions before using a new product and make sure they are stored and disposed of correctly.
If you spill a chemical, clean it up immediately with rags, being careful to protect your eyes and skin. Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors in a safe place, then dispose of them by wrapping them in newspaper and placing them in a sealed plastic bag.
Make sure your first aid kit is complete and accessible.
When a chemical emergency strikes
If you’re inside the home, administer first aid and call the emergency services. If a child should eat or drink a non-food substance, find any containers immediately and take them to the phone when calling 999. Follow their instructions carefully. Don’t give anything by mouth until you have been advised by medical professionals.
If you’re outside or at work, move away from the immediate source of any chemical danger, but wait for the emergency services to arrive and examine you. If you go home untreated you could contaminate others.
If an incident releases a dangerous chemical into the environment, listen to radio or television news and follow instructions from the police. If you are told to shelter indoors, close your windows and doors, turn off any heating and air conditioning systems, and put tape around doors, windows and air vents.
Prevent future chemical emergencies
Remember that the best way to deal with a chemical emergency is to prevent it from happening in the first place in your home – and by remaining calm and following professional advice in all other circumstances.