The CDC has a key role in protecting the public’s health in an emergency involving the release of a chemical that could harm people’s health. This document provides information to help people be prepared to protect themselves during and after such an event.
A chemical emergency occurs when a hazardous chemical has been released and the release has the potential for harming people’s health. Chemical releases can be unintentional, as in the case of an industrial accident, or intentional, as in the case of a terrorist attack.
Some chemicals that are hazardous have been developed by military organizations for use in warfare. Examples are nerve agents such as sarin and VX, mustards such as sulfur mustards and nitrogen mustards, and choking agents such as phosgene. It might be possible for terrorists to get these chemical warfare agents and use them to harm people.
Many hazardous chemicals are used in industry (for example, chlorine, ammonia, and benzene). Others are found in nature (for example, poisonous plants). Some could be made from everyday items such as household cleaners. These types of hazardous chemicals also could be obtained and used to harm people, or they could be accidentally released.
Scientists often categorize hazardous chemicals by the type of chemical or by the effects a chemical would have on people exposed to it. The categories/types used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are as follows:
If you know the name of a chemical but aren’t sure what category it would be in, you can look for the chemical by name on the "A-Z List of Chemical Agents" (www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/agentlistchem.asp) on the CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response website.
You could protect yourself during a chemical emergency, even if you didn’t know yet what chemical had been released. For general information on protecting yourself, read the fact sheets on evacuation (www.bt.cdc.gov/planning/evacuationfacts.asp), sheltering in place (www.bt.cdc.gov/planning/shelteringfacts.asp), and personal cleaning and disposal of contaminated clothing (http://www.bt.cdc.gov/planning/personalcleaningfacts.asp).
Basic chemical emergency information designed for the public can be found in the general fact sheets (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/genfactsheets.asp) and chemical-specific fact sheets (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/factsheets.asp) and in the toxicology FAQs (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/toxfaqs.asp) on the CDC Emergency Preparedness and Response website.
Chemical emergency information designed for groups such as first responders, clinicians, laboratorians, and public health practitioners can be found in the case defi nitions (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/casedef.asp), toxic syndrome descriptions (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/tsd.asp), toxicological profiles (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/toxprofiles.asp), medical management guidelines (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/mmg.asp), emergency response cards (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/erc.asp), First Responders page (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/responders.asp), and Laboratory Information page (www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical/lab.asp).
For more information about chemical emergencies, you can visit the following websites:
For more information, visit www.bt.cdc.gov/chemical, or call CDC at 800-CDC-INFO (English and Spanish) or 888-232-6348 (TTY).