How to Deal With Major Hazmat Spills

major hazmat skills preparedness GIF
No, thank you.

Have things escalated quickly? Here’s what you do when the spill is out of your control. Follow this emergency response plan for any major hazmat spills:

1. Rescue

  • Rescue yourself and others from the immediate danger!
  • Leave the spill site. 
  • Take a shower to wash your hands, eyes, and any other contact locations.
    • If you the chemicals you were using shouldn’t go down the drain, plug the drain to make sure they remain contained. 
  • Decontaminate yourself thoroughly.
  • If you feel unwell or uneasy, seek immediate medical attention.

2. Confine

  • Close doors or windows to confine the liquid or gas. 
  • Isolate contaminated people and contain contaminated materials.
  • Don’t let the chemicals drain anywhere.

3. Report

  • Report the spill.
  • Don’t know who to call?
    • Dial 911, and share as many details as you possibly can.
    • Tell them about the location, material, physical state (liquid/gas), quantity, etc. 
    • Request assistance for all people who have been affected and might need medical attention.
  • If the spill is likely to affect others in the building, activate the nearest fire alarm system to trigger an evacuation.

4. Secure

  • Make sure no one enters the spill site until the emergency response personnel or hazmat responders arrive. 
  • If you think that the hazmat spill can spread to other areas, close the doors and windows of the room and cover the vents from the outside.
Chemistry experiment
It’s all fun and games until we have to evacuate the school, chemistry queen.

What to Do if Asked to Evacuate

  1. Follow the evacuation routes out of the building. 
  2. Grab your emergency response kit. Don’t linger collecting other items. 
  3. If authorities have not given you a specific evacuation location, look for indoor locations on high ground, with the fewest openings to the outside.

What to Do if Asked to Stay Indoors

If the spill has happened outside and you need to stay inside to stay safe,

  1. Seal any gaps around doorways and windows. Use wet towels, plastic sheets, aluminum foil, wax paper, or duct tape
  2. If warned of possible explosions from the hazmat spill, draw the blinds, curtains, or drapes. Keep clear of the windows.
  3. Close any vents and fireplace dampers that could allow air to enter. If you have an air purification system, run it at maximum capacity to help clear the indoor air.

How to React to “Get Indoors” Warnings

If you were outside when the spill occurs,

  1. Cover your mouth and nose with some part of your clothing as you move.  
  2. If you can’t reach shelter, try to stay upwind, uphill, and upstream of the spill.
    • Aim to get at least half a mile (approximately 8 to 10 city blocks) away from the danger zone.

What to Do if You Are in a Car

If you are stuck in a car during a hazardous material spill nearby,

  1. Stop traveling and try to find shelter in a safe indoor location as soon as possible. 
  2. If shelter is unavailable and you have to remain inside the car, keep the windows and vents closed.
  3. Do not use the car’s air conditioner or heater.
KN95 mask stored in car
This souvenir from the pandemic might not help, but it probably won’t hurt!

How much responsibility do I have to report these things, really?

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.