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Hazardous Material Release

Hazardous materials or "HazMat" includes flammable and combustible substances, explosives, fertilizers, poisons, radioactive materials, and chemical agents (vapors, aerosols, liquids, or solids) that can have toxic effects on people, animals, plants, or the environment.  Many of these substances are odorless and colorless.  

Residents are at risk whenever chemicals are used unsafely or released in harmful amounts where they live, work, or play.  It is important to know what substances are being produced, transported, and used in and around the community so that residents can be prepared for any HazMat incident.  The Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) is responsible for collecting information about hazardous materials used or stored in the area and working with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and local fire departments to plan for HazMat accidents.  In compliance with the federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, their information is available to the public.  

Accidental HazMat releases can happen during the production, storage, transportation, use, transfer, or disposal of hazardous substances.  For instance, natural gas releases often occur when a pipe is broken during excavations for construction or demolition operations.  Home landscaping or post-storm clean-up can also damage gas or water lines; and although not technically a "release," a broken water line incident can allow hazardous materials to contaminate the local water supply.  In 2005, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) designated 811 as the official number that homeowners and commercial excavators nationwide can call to have local service providers mark underground gas lines and other utilities free of charge in order to prevent accidental damage when digging.


Any HazMat release is considered a "reportable incident" that, per Florida Statutes, must be reported to Emergency Management through the County Watch Office and relayed to the State Watch Office.  If you see something, say something.  Many other types of reportable incidents such as railroad, marine, and trucking accidents, explosions, structure fires, equipment failures, and illegal dumping involve the release of hazardous substances (e.g., petroleum, sewage, chemicals, gas, or radiation) and may result in the temporary evacuation of a neighborhood, shelter-in-place orders, or a boil water notice until the HazMat release is contained and the area is rendered safe.  

Graphic heading says Prepare Now surrounded by a Blue Circle


Graphic heading says Survive During the Hazard surrounded by Orange Circle


Graphic heading says Be Safe After the Hazard surrounded by Green Circle


  • If a gas line is broken or an explosion occurs and toxic chemicals are released, local authorities may not immediately be able to provide information on where the plume is headed and what you should do.

  • Listen to local radio or television stations for updated details about exposure risks and follow instructions carefully.  

  • If outside when an incident occurs that involves a hazardous gas, vapor, or radiation:

    • Determine the fastest way to find clean air, upwind of the source.

    • If in a car, keep windows and vents closed and shut off the air conditioner and heater.

    • Find the closest building to shelter-in-place.

  • If in a building and told to evacuate, do so immediately. 

    • If the substance is inside, get out of the building without passing through the contaminated area.

    • If you can't get out of the building or find clean air without passing through the affected area, move as far away as possible and shelter-in-place.

  • If in a building and told to stay indoors:

    • Bring pets inside.

    • Take shelter in an interior room that can be sealed.

    • Close all exterior doors and windows, vents, fireplace dampers, and as many interior doors as possible.  

    • Turn off air conditioners and ventilation systems, or set air handlers to "recirculate only" so that no outside air is drawn into the building.

  • Do not leave the safety of a shelter to go outdoors until authorities say it is safe to do so.

  • If you have evacuated, return home only when authorities say it is safe.

  • If you have been exposed to the hazardous agent, decontaminate yourself and help others to do so:

    • Remove all clothing and other items in contact with your body.

    • Cut off pull-over clothing to avoid contact with the eyes, nose, and mouth.

    • Put contaminated clothing and items into a plastic bag and seal the bag.

    • Remove eyeglasses or contact lenses.  Dispose of contact lenses;  wash, rinse, and dry eyeglasses.

    • Wash hands with soap and water.  

    • Flush eyes with water.

    • Gently wash face and hair with soap and water before thoroughly rinsing with clean running water.

  • Avoid eating or drinking any food or water that may be contaminated.​

  • Call 911 or Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222 if you suspect someone has been poisoned.

  • Call the Animal Poison Control Center at 1-888-426-4435 if you suspect a pet has been poisoned.

FEMA graphic describing steps to take to shelter-in-place to protect yourself from a chemical hazard
FEMA graphic illustrating where to best shelter-in-place to protect yourself from a chemical hazard
CDC graphic showing the difference between Radiation External Contamination, on the body, versus Internal Contamination, ingested or entered through an open wound, and Exposure or Irradiation which penetrates the body.
Post-Storm Clean-Up Video
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