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Chemical Spills

A chemical spill, or hazardous materials (HazMat) event, occurs when a toxic or otherwise dangerous powder, liquid, gas, or other chemical form is released. In addition to causing both immediate and long-term health impacts (and potentially death) in humans and animals, chemicals also can destroy property, poison rivers and lakes, and pollute land and air.  

Points of greatest risk of chemical release include storage sites where large quantities of chemicals are kept, railways and highways where chemicals are transported, and production sites where large quantities of chemicals are produced, stored for use or shipping, or used in manufacturing or other processes.  

Learn to protect yourself and your family. Download our Hazard Prep Checklists and take steps to be prepared before, during, and after a chemical spill.



What Can I Do Before a Chemical Spill?



Download a printable PDF version of this checklist


What Should I Do if a Chemical Spill Occurs?


  • Call 911 if you witness or recognize a hazardous materials release or other chemical emergency.
  • If you receive an alert or hear a warning regarding a chemical emergency, tune in to your preferred local news source for further information. Follow instructions carefully.
  • Stay away from the incident site to minimize the risk of contamination.
  • If you are caught outside during an incident, try to stay upstream, uphill, and upwind. Try to go at least one-half mile, or further if possible, from the danger area.
  • If you are in a motor vehicle, stop and find shelter in a building, if possible. If you must remain in your car, keep the car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner or heater.
  • If asked to evacuate your home, do so immediately. Take your animals with you, but do not endanger yourself to do so. If authorities indicate there is enough time, close all windows, shut vents, and turn off attic, heating, and air conditioning fans to minimize contamination.


If you are told to stay indoors, shelter-in-place rather than evacuate:

  • Follow all instructions given by emergency management officials.
  • Get household members and pets inside as quickly as possible.
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and interior doors.
  • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems.
  • Go into a pre-selected shelter room, ideally above ground, in the interior of your home, and with few or no windows.
  • Take a battery-powered radio, water, sanitary supplies, a flashlight, and your Disaster Supply Kit containing pre-cut plastic sheeting, duct tape, and scissors.
  • Close all doors and windows and seal the room using your plastic sheeting and duct tape, or other materials:
    • Tape around the sides, bottom, and top of the door
    • Cover each window and vent in the room with a single piece of plastic sheeting, taping all around the edges of the sheeting to provide a continuous seal
    • If there are any cracks or holes in the room, such as those around pipes entering a bathroom, fill them with modeling clay or other similar material
    • If authorities warn of the possibility of an outdoor explosion, close all drapes, curtains, and shades in the room, and stay away from windows to prevent injury from breaking glass
    • Remain in the room, listening to a local radio or television station until you hear that authorities advise you to leave your shelter
  • Avoid contact with the released chemicals, and keep your body fully covered.
  • Prevent your animals from contacting released substances and wash them as soon as you are able.
  • Do not eat food or drink water that may have been contaminated.
  • Be prepared to turn off the main water intake valve in case authorities advise you to do so.


Download a printable PDF version of this checklist


What Should I Do After a Chemical Spill?


  • If you evacuated, return when emergency management officials indicate it is safe to do so.
  • When officials announce that it is safe to leave shelters, open all doors and windows and turn on the air conditioning and ventilation systems.
  • Be aware that a person or item that has been exposed to a hazardous chemical may be contaminated and could contaminate other people or items.


If you or your animals have been exposed to hazardous chemicals:

  • Follow decontamination instructions issued by local officials. (Depending on the chemical, you may be advised to take a thorough shower, or you may be advised to stay away from water and follow other procedures.)
  • Seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible. If medical help is not immediately available and you think you might be contaminated, remove all of your clothing and shower thoroughly (unless local officials advise you to do otherwise). Change into fresh, loose clothing and get medical help as soon as possible.
  • Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers, such as plastic bags with twist-ties. Do not allow them to contact other materials. Contact local officials to find out about proper disposal.
  • Advise everyone who comes in contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.
  • Find out from local officials how to clean up your land and property.
  • Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.


Download a printable PDF version of this checklist

Developed by the Capitol Region Council of Governments