Hazardous Materials

What are Hazardous Materials (HAZMAT)?

Hazardous materials are chemical substances, which if released or misused can pose a threat to the environment or health. These chemicals are used in industry, agriculture, medicine, research and consumer goods. Hazardous materials in various forms can cause death, serious injury, long-lasting health effects, and damage to buildings, homes and other property. Many products containing hazardous chemicals are used and stored in homes routinely. These products are also shipped daily on the nation's highways, railroads, waterways and pipelines.

Hazardous materials come in the form of explosives, flammable and combustible substances, poisons and radioactive materials. These substances are most often released as a result of transportation or industrial accidents.

A hazardous materials incident can occur anywhere. Communities located near chemical manufacturing plants are particularly at risk. However, hazardous materials are transported on our roadways, railways and waterways daily, so any area is considered vulnerable to an accident.

Hazardous Materials Warning Placards

The U.S. Department of Transportation employs a labeling and placarding system for identifying the types of hazardous materials that are transported along the nation's highways, railways and waterways. This system enables local emergency officials to identify the nature and potential health threat of chemicals being transported into or through the community. Were a chemical accident to occur, local emergency officials and the fire department would be able to determine the proper emergency response procedures for the situation by the type of placard or warning label.

Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act

Authorized by Title III of the Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (SARA), the Emergency Planning & Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) of 1986 was enacted by Congress to help local communities protect public health, safety, and the environment from chemical hazards. It requires emergency planning and "Community Right-to-Know" industry reporting on the storage and releases of hazardous substances. The Community Right-to-Know provisions help increase the public's knowledge and access to information on chemicals at individual facilities, States and communities, working with facilities, can use the information to improve chemical safety and protect public health and the environment.

EPCRA also requires that each community establish a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) to be responsible for developing an emergency plan for preparation and response to chemical emergencies within the community. LEPCs are made up of stakeholders from private-sector business and industry, public safety agencies and governmental entities, and should include (at a minimum):

  • Elected local officials
  • Emergency management
  • Police, fire, and health professionals
  • Environmental, transportation, and hospital officials
  • Business facility representatives
  • Representatives from community groups
  • Media

Tier II Reporting

Under EPCRA, businesses and facilities are required to submit Tier II forms to provide state, local officials and the public with information on potential hazards. Tier IIs are filed annually with the MERC between January 1st and March 1st and include chemicals that were present at the facility during the previous year. In conjunction with Tier II forms, fees are collected from the filers. Funds received by the MERC are processed and reallocated back to the local jurisdictions and to agencies that directly impact local hazardous materials response and mitigation. The State Fire Marshal’s office is allocated 10% to be utilized for hazmat training for local responders; the MERC retains 25% for statewide planning, training and administrative fees. The remaining 65% is returned to the county’s LEPC for local planning and training.

Citizen Planning & Response to a Hazardous Materials Incident


Learn to detect the presence of a hazardous material. Many hazardous materials do not have a taste or an odor and may be a colorless gas. Some materials can be detected because they cause physical reactions such as watering eyes or nausea. Some hazardous materials exist beneath the surface of the ground and can be recognized by an oil or foam-like appearance.

Be ready to evacuate. Plan several evacuation routes out of the area and places you and your family frequent, i.e. work, school, daycare, etc.

Ask about industry and community warning systems.

Have disaster supplies on hand.

  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • Portable, battery-operated radio and extra batteries
  • First aid kit and manual
  • Emergency food and water
  • Nonelectric can opener
  • Essential medicines
  • Cash and credit cards
  • Sturdy shoes

Develop an emergency communication plan and a plan for reuniting after the disaster if family members are separated from one another i.e. if the event occurs during the day when adults are at work and children are at school. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to serve as the "family contact." After a disaster, it is often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.


Listen to local radio or television stations for detailed information and follow instructions carefully. If you hear a siren or other warning signal, turn on a radio or television for further emergency information.

If you are requested to stay indoors (“shelter in place”):

  • Bring pets inside.
  • Close and lock all exterior doors and windows. Close vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible.
  • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems.
  • If gas or vapors could have entered the building, take shallow breaths through a cloth or a towel.
  • Go into your pre-selected shelter room.
  • Seal gaps under and around the following areas with wet towels, plastic sheeting, duct tape, wax paper or aluminum foil:
    • Doorways and windows
    • Air conditioning units
    • Bathroom and kitchen exhaust fans
    • Stove and dryer vents with duct tape and plastic sheeting
  • Fill up bathtubs or large containers for an additional water supply and turn off the intake valve to the house.
  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.

If you are caught outside:

  • Stay upstream, uphill, and upwind. In general, try to go at least one-half mile (usually 8-10 city blocks) from the danger area.
  • Do not walk into or touch any spilled liquids, airborne mists or condensed solid chemical deposits. Try not to inhale gases, fumes or smoke. If possible, cover mouth with a cloth or mask while leaving the area.
  • Stay away from victims until the hazardous material has been identified.
  • Once safe, call 911 to report the incident.

If you are in a motor vehicle:

  • Stop and seek shelter in a permanent building.
  • If you must remain in your car, keep car windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner or heater.

If you are asked to evacuate:

  • Do so immediately. Follow the routes recommended by the authorities.
  • Stay tuned to a radio or television for information on evacuation routes, temporary shelters, and procedures.
  • If you have time, minimize contamination in the house by closing all windows, shutting all vents and turning off HVAC systems.
  • Take pre-assembled disaster supplies.
  • Remember to help your neighbors who may require special assistance - infants, elderly people and people with access and functional needs.

Authorities will decide if evacuation is necessary based primarily on the type and amount of chemical released and how long it is expected to affect an area. Other considerations are the length of time it should take to evacuate the area, weather conditions and the time of day.

Monitor media, social media and alerts for further updates; remain in shelter until authorities indicate it is safe to come out.


Listen to local radio or television stations for the latest emergency information.

Go to the designated public shelter if you have been told to evacuate or if you feel it is unsafe to remain in your home.

Act quickly if you have come in to contact with or have been exposed to hazardous chemicals. Follow decontamination instructions from local authorities and seek medical treatment for unusual symptoms as soon as possible.

Place exposed clothing and shoes in tightly sealed containers. Advise everyone who comes in to contact with you that you may have been exposed to a toxic substance.

Return home only when authorities say it is safe. Open windows and vents and turn on fans to provide ventilation. Find out from local authorities how to clean up your land and property.

Report any lingering vapors or other hazards to your local emergency services office.

Household Hazardous Materials

Although the risk of a chemical accident is slight, knowing how to handle household products containing hazardous materials or chemicals can reduce the risk of injury.


It is critical to store household chemicals in places where children cannot access them. Remember that products such as aerosol cans of hair spray and deodorant, nail polish and nail polish remover, toilet bowl cleaners and furniture polish all fall into the category of hazardous materials. Other hazardous household chemicals may include:

  • Cleaning products
  • Pesticides
  • Automotive products like antifreeze or motor oil
  • Miscellaneous items like batteries, mercury thermometers and florescent light bulbs
  • Flammable products like kerosene, home heating oil, propane tanks and lighter fluid
  • Workshop or painting supplies such as paint thinners and turpentine
  • Lawn and garden products like herbicides and insecticides

Keep products containing hazardous materials in their original containers and never remove the labels unless the container is corroding. Corroding containers should be repackaged and clearly labeled.

Never store hazardous products in food containers.

Never mix household hazardous chemicals or waste with other products. Incompatibles, such as chlorine bleach and ammonia, may react, ignite or explode.

Never use hair spray, cleaning solutions, paint products, or pesticides near an open flame.

Clean up any chemical spill immediately. Allow the fumes in the rags to evaporate outdoors, then dispose of the rags by wrapping them in a newspaper and placing them in a sealed plastic bag in your trash can.

Dispose of hazardous materials correctly.

Save the Poison Control number in your cell phone and post it next to landlines in your home: (800) 222-1222.


Get out of the residence immediately if there is a danger of fire, explosion and/or contamination.

Stay upwind and away from the residence to avoid breathing toxic fumes.

Recognize and respond to symptoms of toxic poisoning including:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Irritation of the eyes, skin, throat, or respiratory tract
  • Changes in skin color
  • Headache or blurred vision
  • Dizziness, clumsiness or lack of coordination
  • Cramps or diarrhea

If someone is experiencing toxic poisoning symptoms or has been exposed to a household chemical, call the national poison control center at (800) 222-1222; Consult the containers of the substance in order to provide requested information.

Follow the emergency operator or dispatcher’s first aid instructions carefully. Do not give anything by mouth unless advised to do so by a medical professional.


Discard clothing that may have been contaminated. Some chemicals may not wash out completely.

Environmental Emergency Response

If you are involved in or witness an environmental emergency, call the Missouri Department of Natural Resources at 573-634-2436.

The Environmental Emergency Response (EER) Section is the department’s front line of defense against releases of hazardous substances, natural or man-made disasters and threats to homeland security. EER fulfills the department’s duties outlined in legislation commonly known as the Spill Bill. The legislation appears in Missouri's revised statutes: Chapter 260, Sections 260.500 - 260.550. EER's responsibilities include addressing any material released to land, water or atmosphere that may impact the environment and public health.