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Essay Paper on Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear Agents and Incidents

by Elise Hobbs

Substance – a chemical element and its compounds in the natural state or obtained by a process of production, containing any additive necessary to preserve the stability of the product and any impurity deriving from the process used, but excluding any solvent which may be separated without affecting the stability of the substance and without changing its composition (IUPAC, 1997). Substances can be found as (Hill et al., 2005):

  • Gas: oxygen, carbon monoxide, nitrogen, etc.
  • Liquid: acidic and/or basic solution, solvents, etc.
  • Solid: calcium oxide (lime), sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), silicon oxide (sand), etc.
  • Powders: solids suspended in the air, resulting from mechanical or vortical processes
  • Fumes: solids suspended in the air, resulting from thermal and / or chemical processes
  • Fog (aerosol): liquid matter suspended in the air, produced by condensation or dispersion.

Hazardous materials are represented by the following:

  • explosive substances: solid, liquid, pasty or gelatinous substances, which may react exothermically without atmospheric oxygen, immediately producing gases, and which can detonate, producing a rapid deflagration, or upon heating explode when partially closed.
  • oxidizing substances: substances which in contact with other substances, particularly flammable ones, have a highly exothermic reaction
  • flammable substances: liquid substances with a very low flash point and low boiling point along with gaseous substances which are flammable in contact with air at ambient temperature and pressure
  • toxic substances: substances which by inhalation, ingestion or skin penetration in low quantities cause death or acute or chronic health diseases
  • carcinogenic substances – substances which by inhalation, ingestion or skin penetration can cause cancer or can increase cancer incidence
  • substances dangerous for the environment – substances which used in the environment, would present or may present an immediate or delayed risk for one or more components of the environment

Hazards associated with substances

Explosion – Not only substances used as explosives (that are subject to rules and special regulations) but also other gaseous, liquid or solid substances can cause an explosion when mixed with air within certain limits of concentration. The lower and upper explosive limits represent the range of concentrations in which the mix between a substance and the air, explodes in the presence of an ignition source. Explosion limits for gases and vapors are expressed in volume %.For example, benzene has the explosive limits between 1.2 to 8% (in this range of concentration the mixture between benzene and air may explode in the presence of an ignition source). Explosion limits for solids are expressed in mg / cm. Flammable solids can explode if are dispersed in the air in the form of powders. Explosion limit values are found in the specialized literature and in the Safety Data Sheets.

Flammability – Flammable Substances are characterized according to the temperature (point) of flash:

  • Flammable – Flash temperature over 210C
  • Highly flammable – flash temperature between 0-21 ° C (or solids which ignite spontaneously in air or easily ignite in contact with a source of ignition and continue to burn after removal of the source)
  • Extremely flammable – liquids with a flash temperature below 0 ° C and a boiling point below 35 ° C.

Toxicity – Toxicity can be defined as the property of a substance to cause adverse health effects. Toxicity is considered general, if the effects of the chemical agents manifest undifferentiated on the human organs. When toxicity is manifested on a limited number of organs, these organs are called target organs. There are three ways of penetration of chemical agents in the body: inhalation, skin contact, ingestion.

Corrosiveness – corrosive substances attack living tissues destroying them in depth (chemical burns). In this cases are mainly affected the skin and the nasal mucous, eye and mouth, but in case of ingestion the gastrointestinal tract can be attacked, with very serious consequences. The most common corrosive substances are acids and strong bases but in this class come it can be included also some oxidized compounds (for example certain peroxides).

Hazardous Material Incident

In the case of an incident that involves hazardous materials (the ones presented above), first respondents along with the specialized intervention team benefit from the help of numerous organizations and tools that can help limit the consequences of the incident.

NRC (the National Response Center) represents the single point of contact in the case of HAZMAT. (NRC, 2011). NRC is the command center and the institution that centralizes all information regarding HAZMAT and also is the institution that informs the abilities organizations and the respons teams about the specifics of the incident.

A major role is played by the Department of Transportation, because most incidents take place during transport. The main objectives of DOT are represented by safety, environmental stewardship, reliability, global connectivity and response. In the case of a incident, DOT along Transport Canada and the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation of Mexico, have developed a guidebook that acts as support for all firefighters, police and any other interventional personal that may be at the place of a possible transportation incident that involves hazardous materials (phmsa.dot.gov, 2011).

Another support tool for the respondents to an incident is represented by CAMEO (Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations). This is a computer software suite developed in order to assist in the planning and the actual response to various chemical emergencies (EPA, 2011). The CAMEO suit contains 4 different applications (CAMEO, CAMEO Chemicals, MARPLOT, ALOHA) that are interconnected and complementary one to another.

Establishing the measures during intervention

In the case of an incident that regards hazardous materials the person in charge is the incident commander. He is the one that is specially trained in managing this type of situations, beyond the First Responder (Noll, Hildebrand, and Yvonna, 1995). In the case of a Hazardous Material Incident, the incident commander will immediately assume command from the First Responder who should have already established a working ICS.

The first respondents have also the duty of determining the substances involved in the incident. For this, the UN number may be the first source of information. The UN number defines and identifies the hazardous substance by its chemical composition and is always composed of 4 digits (Caves Et Distilleries, 2011). This serial number has been assigned into a table of hazardous substances, prepared by a committee of experts from EEC which operates under the aegis of UN and is included in Annex B of the ADR agreement, and is valid for the recognition of each substance in the countries that joined the ADR for all types of transport (road, sea, rail).


To quickly establish measures during traffic accidents involving dangerous substances, intervention forces may use safety data sheet, where are recorded information about potential hazards (fire / explosion, health hazards), public security (measures of generally, protective equipment), emergency measures (in case of loss / leakage, fire), first aid measures. A second source of information is represented by CAMEO or by the Guide developed by DOT.


If accidents involving dangerous substances take place at an economic agents, intervention forces may establish the measures to be implemented based on the characteristic of the substance, ONU number, physicochemical characteristics, quantity, health and / or environmental risks, ways of storing or packing, detection possibilities, personal protection of the intervention personnel, extinguisher agents, neutralized decontamination, antidote for intervention staff and possibilities of removing the substance, methods of first aid, and other data considered important for the risk analysis.

Safety Data Sheets cannot be used when the accident involves more hazardous substances from different classes or different divisions. In accidents involving substances of several classes of danger, it will be considered only information received from professionals (producers) or from CHEMTREC. Also, even if some substances involved in an accident can be harmless, it should not be ignored that their combination or the burst of a fire may endanger human health or it may cause an explosion.

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Emergency Response Guidebook, (2011), retrieved from: http://www.phmsa.dot.gov/hazmat/library/erg, December 18, 2011
EPA, (2011), Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations, retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/oem/content/cameo/, December 18, 2011
Hill, J. W.; Petrucci, R. H.; McCreary, T. W.; Perry, S. S. (2005) General Chemistry, 4th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey,
IUPAC, (1997) Compendium of Chemical Terminology, 2nd ed.
NRC, (2011), NRC Background, retrieved from: http://www.nrc.uscg.mil/nrcback.html, December 18, 2011
Noll, G.G., M.S. Hildebrand, and J.G. Yvonna. (1995). Hazardous Materials: Managing the Incident. OK: Fire Protection Publications.
Caves Et Distilleries De La Tour, (2011) Transport of dangerous Goods, retrieved from: “http://www.distillerie-de-la-tour.com/fichiers/Transport_of_dangerous_goods_en.pdf”

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