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Chemical Threat

Chemical agents are poisonous vapors, aerosols, liquids, and solids that have a toxic effect on people, animals, and plants.  Some chemical agents are colorless and odorless and the harmful effects they produce can be immediate (a few seconds to a few minutes) or delayed (2 to 48 hours).

Signs of a chemical threat include people having difficulty breathing, experiencing eye irritation, losing coordination, becoming nauseated, or having a burning sensation in the nose, throat, and lungs.  The presence of an unusually high number of dead insects or birds may indicate a chemical agent release.

During a Chemical Threat

If possible, leave the affected area immediately in the direction upwind from the source.  If leaving safely is not possible, find indoor shelter immediately and shelter-in-place. Do not leave the protection of the shelter to assist others outdoors. Once inside:

If instructed to evacuate:

  • Do so immediately
  • If available, monitor local broadcast radio for emergency information on:
  • Evacuation routes
  • Temporary shelters
  • Procedures to follow
  • Follow the routes given by authorities – shortcuts and other routes may not be safe
  • Carpool with others to minimize traffic congestion
  • Assist those in need (children, elderly, disabled, persons without transportation)

If indoors shelter-in-place

If outside:

  • Stay upwind, upstream, and uphill
  • Try to go at least one-half mile from the source
  • Avoid contact with spilled liquids, airborne mists, or condensed solid chemical deposits
  • Avoid inhaling gases, fumes, and smoke by covering the nose and mouth with cloth, if possible
  • Avoid contact with exposed individuals until the hazardous material has been identified and interpersonal contact is determined safe

If in a motor vehicle:

  • Stop and seek shelter indoors
  • If leaving the vehicle safely is not possible, close the windows and vents and keep the air conditioning and heater fan off Precautions for Exposure

Decontamination is necessary within minutes of exposure to minimize harmful health effects.  A person experiencing the effects of exposure requires immediate professional medical attention.  If professional assistance with decontamination is unavailable, self-decontamination is required.  Self-decontamination guidelines are as follows:

  • Use extreme caution when helping others who have been exposed to chemical agents
  • Remove all clothing and other items in contact with the body. Clothing that would normally be removed over the head should be cut off to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth. Put the contaminated clothing into a plastic bag and seal it
  • Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses and put glasses in a pan of household bleach to decontaminate them, then rinse and dry them Flush the eyes with water
  • Gently wash the face and hair with soap and water then thoroughly rinse with water  Decontaminate other areas of the body that are likely to have been contaminated. Blot (do not swab or scrape) the skin with a cloth soaked in soapy water and rinse with water
  • Change into uncontaminated clothes. Clothing stored in drawers and closets are likely to be uncontaminated
  • Proceed immediately to a medical facility for screening and professional treatment

Additional information on Chemical Threats is available on the following websites:

  • The U.S. Department of Homeland Security at
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at
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