Fire Photography|Safety | Arson | Media Relations | Haz Mat| EMS |Forums |Main Page
Hazardous Materials and Disaster Recovery 
             Emergency Services Personnel
 Ladies and Gentlemen, I author this article with many many feelings, as I know you all have, after the events of this week in NY, Washington and Pennsylvania.  I have been literally in tears watching the response and recovery efforts.  Still, in a professional manner, I feel this is a timely instance to discuss responder safety relative to Hazardous Materials during times of response and recovery.  While the terrorist situation obviously comes to mind , these basic principles of toxilogical protection apply to all R and R situations, and all emergency service responders and first responnse personnel (fire service, red cross, disaster assistance, police and emergency medical services, investigatory personnel). 

Hazardous Materials, as you realize, fall into two broad catagories: Those which expolde or cause fires, and those that are poisons.  In the emergency services field, we have become fairly adapt at identifying the "fire causers" and the acute poisons.  These are in containers or situations we recognize.  We are not as adapt at the identification of TOXIC Materials, those materials encased in building components which, under normal conditions, are not a threat. Indeed , they add to the stability of the buildinigs themselves.  Our exposure as a population has been well catagorized to these materials when they are in place in normal situations.  Materials such as ASBESTOS (a building insulating material), LEAD (in particular in paint) and ambient DUSTS come to mind.  Lets look at these materials, and how they may effect R and R Operations.
All of the above are present in solid structures.  With a rapid failure of a structure, they may be present in air, and if we as R and R personnel are in these areas, we may be exposed.  Unfortunately , the effects of these materials are long term, so immediate response personnel may not know the effects of their exposure for an extended period of time.  Obviously, the principles of remaining away from the area for as long a period of time as possible reduces any exposures.  Next , if a response is necessary to protect health or the environment, we must be aware of the characteristics of these materials. 

ASBESTOS: ASBESTOS is a mineral, microscopic in size.  One fiber of asbestos , a lighting bolt like shaped material, may remain in the lower lungs , and lead to excess risks of cancer, asbestosis or maladies of the mesothelial lining of the lungs.  ASBESTOS fibers are so small that only HEPA filtered equipment will eliminate them,  if they are present. 

LEAD:  LEAD is an elemental metal, which causes maladies of the Central Nervous System and blocks the blood forming abilities of the bones.  Severe LEAD poisoning may lead to death.  Lead particles are small and only HEPA filtered equipment will eliminate them.

DUSTS: Dusts are multisized, and dependant upon size and shape, may enter different parts of the lungs.  The body has a natural defense against inordinate amounts of lungs, in that it attempts to expell(cough) them.  Dusts also contain both lead and asbestos, if present , as well as other toxic materials.

If response is necessary, in particular long responses, it is essential to identify the above toxins, as well as any other "special materials" that may be present in non typical buildings, and plan to protect ourselves.

EXPOSURE: Exposure may occur in two manners: through inhilation, or through secondary exposures (off one's clothes) which again will result in inhilation.  SCBA or SAR typically can last for minimal timeframes, relative to the times neccessary for R and R operations, therefore HEPA filtered respiratory protectioin, full body covering, a decontamination procedure and an initial O2 test are always required. 

Why?  Any time filtered respirators are used, we must insure sufficient O2 is present.  All HAZMAT teams, as well as many public utilities will have O2 monitoring equipment.  Once we determine O2 in sufficient quantities is present, we will protect our bodies with full covering, such as dispopsable Tyvek or similiar suits.  Disposable in nature, these may then minimize the need for decontamination.  Finally, any areas where these materials are present mut be entered with HEPA filtered respirators, properly fitted and sized. Fit tests are required.  Respirators must not be removed in any Hazard area.  HEPA filtered respirators (NRP-100 certified) are not the white dust  masks seen in many hardware stores.  These masks give NO protection against the toxins discussed. 

Fire, pressure release and explosions release the above solid materials in a wide pattern.  ANY evaluation of the above NON TYPICAL need for protective equipment may be performed by an industrial hygienist or safety professional.  The Phoenix Fire Department, for example, employees such an individual.  The IAFF Safety Office in Washington,  D.C. employs such an individual.  Most fire and police departments, however, have not thought of how to access this type person.  Your local health agency (Health Department) is a good starting point for an emergency activition of this service.  On site evaluation is not always necessary, but technical decision making is normally required. 

While I think back over the events of the week, and remember the pictures , I see many heroic individuals in action.  I am not sure, however, (and I am not privy to the information) if the R and R response was performed after O2 testing and with HEPA filtered respiratory protection equipment. I do  not recall decontamination stations, although I do recall Mayor Gulliani identifying that Health Department hygenists were on site performing asbestos in air tests, and subsequently protecting R and R workers in this manner (He did identify that tests identified Asbestos was not a concern).  Responders Health may be negatively impacted (EXCESS CANCER RISK) in the event these procedure are not followed. 

Emergency information systems for the decision making identified in this technical assistance article should be set up prior to emergency needs, such as through the Health Department, CHEMTREC, or department hygienists or safety officers.

Further Information and technical assistance can be acquired by contacting Joe Cocciardi.