Hazardous Material

Hazardous materials are substances which, because of their chemical, physical, or biological nature; pose a potential risk to life, health or property when released. A release may occur by spilling, leaking, emitting toxic vapors or any other process that enables the material to escape its container, enter the environment, and create a potential hazard. The hazard can be explosive, flammable, combustible, corrosive, reactive, poisonous, toxic, biological agent and radioactive. 

In the State of Washington, we use a multi-functional approach when dealing with hazardous materials incidents. Agencies such as the Emergency Management Division, Department of Ecology, Washington State Patrol and, most importantly, local HazMat response organizations; all contribute significantly from initial notification, to spills or emissions response, to incident command and to actual on-scene response.

Mandated by federal and state law, the State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) is charged with establishing Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC) whose role is to ensure adequate planning measures are in place to prevent, mitigate, and respond to hazardous materials incidents within their jurisdictions. Washington State has 43 Local Emergency Planning Committees. These LEPCs, in concert with their respective local emergency management offices, conduct hazard identification, vulnerability analysis, and risk assessment activities for their jurisdictions. Federal and state statutes require LEPCs to develop and maintain emergency response plans based on the volumes and types of substances found in, or transported through, their districts. Based on the provisions of the Emergency Planning Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), Local Emergency Planning Committees are charged with the key responsibility of ensuring accurate chemical/toxic substance reporting within their jurisdictions.

Hazard Identification and Vulnerability Assessment

Hazardous material incidents are intentional and/or unintentional releases of a material that, because of their chemical, physical, or biological nature; pose a potential risk to life, health, environment or property. Each incident's impact and resulting response depends on a multitude of interrelated variables that range from the quantity and specific characteristic of the material to the conditions of the release and area/population centers involved. Releases may be small and easily handled with local response resources or rise to catastrophic levels with long-term consequences that require representatives of federal, state and local governments to be present at the scene with each level consisting of personnel from between five and 15 different agencies.

The Washington State Hazardous Materials Program consists of several agencies, each responsible for specific elements of the program. A number of strategies have evolved to limit risk, respond to and recover from hazardous materials releases, intentional discharges, illegal disposals or system failures. A comprehensive system of laws, regulations and resources are in place to provide for technical assistance, environmental compliance and emergency management.

Washington State has 43 Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPC). These Local Emergency Planning Committees, in concert with their respective local emergency management offices, conduct hazard identification, vulnerability analysis and risk assessment activities for their jurisdictions. Federal and state statutes require LEPCs to develop and maintain emergency response plans based on the volumes and types of substances found in or transported through their districts.

Conclusion

The state developed and adopted standardized hazardous materials emergency response training. Training and supporting materials are available to all public emergency responders. Several Local Emergency Planning Committees conducted commodity flow studies from 1997 through 2006 with funding from Hazardous Materials Emergency Preparedness Grants. Hazard identification, vulnerability analysis and risk assessment documentation and databases for hazardous materials incident are maintained by the Washington State Department's of Ecology, Health, Transportation and the Washington State Patrol.

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