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New CSB ‘Safety Digest’ focuses on emergency planning, response

Safety Digest
Photo: Chemical Safety Board

Washington — Proper emergency response training and planning – coupled with early, coordinated communication among companies, first responders and communities – can help prevent chemical incident-related injuries and fatalities, a new Safety Digest from the Chemical Safety Board states.

Released on Oct. 31, the resource outlines responsibilities of first responders, companies and communities when preparing for and responding to chemical incidents.


For first responders:

  • Ensure workers receive proper hazmat training and have access to necessary equipment.
  • Conduct frequent drills and exercise plans to respond to possible chemical releases.
  • Communicate with the companies in their communities that deal with chemicals.
  • Know the key facility contacts in an emergency.

For companies:

  • Maintain current emergency response plans.
  • Communicate frequently and openly with residents, businesses and emergency management officials about chemical hazards in their community and emergency response plans.
  • Instruct employees to respond properly to chemical emergencies and to evacuate when appropriate.

For communities:

  • Understand the hazards of the chemicals used at local facilities.
  • Support and maintain active local emergency planning committees and up-to-date community response plans and teams.
  • Develop detailed evacuation and shelter-in-place plans that identify when and how community members should respond to different types of emergencies.
  • Establish redundant communication systems to notify residents of chemical emergencies.

The digest summarizes four CSB incident investigations conducted between 2008 and 2017 in which the agency found that inadequate elements of emergency response and preparedness contributed to a combined 17 fatalities, as well as numerous injuries and medical emergencies.

In 2013, a fertilizer facility explosion and fire in West, TX, killed 15 people, including 12 first responders, and injured more than 260 others. CSB determined that, among other factors, lack of an incident command system, an established incident management system, hazardous materials and dangerous goods training, and pre-incident facility planning led to the emergency responders’ fatalities.

The other incidents occurred in 2008 at a Bayer CropScience plant in Institute, WV; in 2016 at an MGPI Processing Inc. facility in Atchison, KS; and in 2017 at an Arkema Inc. facility in Crosby, TX. The Arkema incident stemmed from ongoing damage in the Gulf Coast region as a result of Hurricane Harvey. Flooding caused the facility to lose power, forcing employees to evacuate. Days later, organic peroxide products that had been stored inside a once-refrigerated trailer began to decompose, triggering a fire.

Despite its proximity to the plant, emergency response officials initially elected to keep an adjacent public highway open. As a result, 21 people sought medical attention for exposure to hazardous chemical fumes.

CSB recommended the county update emergency operations training to ensure those enforcing evacuation perimeters are not impacted by hazardous chemical exposure. Suggested training included the use of analytical tools, air monitoring and personal protective equipment for those moving through evacuation zones.

A CSB video, released in 2009, also explores emergency preparedness and stakeholder responsibilities during chemical incidents.

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