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Haz Mat "Specialist Course"

Dangerous Solids

     Dangerous solids are often neglected in lieu of more exotic liquid and gas chemical hazards. This is unfortunate, as solids do not care how they appear; they are just as dangerous to the responder. If fact, if solid chemical hazards could, they would probably enjoy their clandestine understated severity. Hazardous materials responders are more often injured and exposed to chemical hazards at smaller more benign appearing spill sites. At the large multi-agency operations, more care is mandatory regarding work force safety on site. The smaller sites with only few responders tend to cut corners specifically because they know no one is observing their spill. Regardless of the response site, all spill operations still follow the same procedures as outlined in “Practical Haz-Mat”. They often are less time dependent due to fewer responders, but they are still mandatory for a positive outcome of zero responder injuries or exposures. With solids, a few key concepts will provide increased responder safety “especially” with the small spills.

     “Sublimation” is the act of a solid material vaporizing without the common transition through a liquid state of matter. Here, the solid contaminant has the ability to vaporize hazardous unseen gases without first existing as a liquid "State of Matter”. A common example is that of naphtha, or “moth balls”. Think of the strong odor released when winterized clothing returns from storage every spring. In many cases, if multiple clothing bags were unsealed inside your home, you would find yourself opening exterior doors quite quickly to rid the house of the “stink”. Imagine a facility or truck trailer loaded with these unseen vapors. At the very least, the risk of asphyxiation becomes a strong and dangerous possibility. Where solids are concerned, do not forget your basic techniques.

     CPC {Chemical Protective Clothing} is necessary for any responder. Just because a product does not have the ability to “splash” onto you, does not mean contamination is unlikely. “Powdered” and “solid beaded” materials easily imbibe themselves in all types of level “D” clothing commonly worn to response sites. Many operations opt for the more protective level “B” CPC with level “C” APR’s {Air Purifying Respirators} simply to avoid the paper type level “C” contamination issue after the incident is finished. To avoid any potential chemical hazard, it is perfectly fine to up-grade any element of a CPC ensemble to fit response needs. The elimination of hoodless level “C” suits should become mandatory for your response team. Airborne solids become atomized in normal air and have the ability to enter your suit at the neckline. All levels of CPC should have encapsulated suit booties regardless of their level of protection. While sweeping, or scooping–up solids, the first place they can make contact with the responder is in the foot area, regardless of the style of protective boot you wear. Exposed feet and ankles provide access for contamination of the responders’ body. Glove taping should be evaluated. If you are working above the waist, tape the glove over the suit as this practice allows contaminant to flow over the glove rather than up your sleeve. If operating below the waist, wear the glove under the wristlet elastic {and tape} allowing the solid to fall to the ground, rather than in your glove.

     When using APR’s {Air Purifying Respirators} always use full-face models. This will ensure proper protection of the entire face. Sweaty facial skin and eyes can absorb solids quickly. Always check that the proper canister is chosen to filter out the solid contaminant you are mitigating. Always begin a response with fresh canisters. Hepa papers inside these canisters can absorb contaminant from previous spill responses and shorten their useable life span.

     Enclosed below are photographs of a relatively benign solid spill. This particular product exhibited minor toxicity and flammability when shipped and used appropriately. Upon analysis of its MSDS {Material Safety Data Sheet}, it was found to be highly explosive when spilled and mixed with ambient air in an enclosed area {such as a loading dock}. The appropriate clean-up method was to utilize level “B” or “C” {with the appropriate APR canisters} and non-sparking tools. This was discovered from employees that had previously made initial “sweep-ups” with organic straw brooms causing fire on the dock and many burnt broom ends as proof. Since this had happened more than once, the burning gases breathed by employees’ placed their overall health in question. Had this scenario occurred on a dock along with highly flammable compressed gases, {which the company also uses} it could have turned into a major facility event. Remember the 1300 rule {see Vapor Pressure post}, and evaluate solids both inside and out of their containers. Click here for photos.

                                                                                   Haz Mat Mike




  Foam Firefighting and WMD

     The question of an actual WMD {Weapon of Mass Destruction} response is a sobering concept to any Hazardous Materials Responder. The multitude of facets involved in a scene of this gravity are overwhelming on the firehouse chalk board, let alone applying these tactics in your home town streets. Multiple response times, unknown hazard identification, multiple victims, uncontrollable confinement and spread of WMD agents are among the gravest of concerns. This is one area of Haz-Mat response where looking at the bigger picture from the beginning may give you an edge. You will see two key elements, 1] contamination and victim spread, 2] confinement to a localized area. To understand how to make these decisions you must understand the nature of the contaminants involved.

     WMD agents are either 1] disease infectious agents or 2] CNS {Central Nervous System} “de-railers”. By “de-railing” your CNS, it in effect shuts down your body’s ability to survive. When we look at the “big picture” we know some will fall, as these weaponized agents are effective. We know too, exposed victims will panic and carry the agent{s} to the hospital, spreading it along their path. We also know, unless we take action, the contaminated area will continue to expand. This will cause a larger area of contamination, crippling our infrastructure. Our problem becomes the length of time for identification and confinement of these products prevents delivering medical care to its victims. Using procedural Haz-Mat Team Tactics, this time can be excessive. The “rate of speed” design of these weaponized agents was originally for military use, not Hazardous Materials response. This new threat has many challenges for Hazardous Materials Teams.

     In this modern time, we are extremely understaffed, so response availability becomes longer whenever large scale incidents such as these present themselves. The arrival, strategic decision making, and use of various hazardous material tactics is designed for environmental responses, not public attack. We can however, minimize these problems and maximize our affect by employing a “singleness of purpose” type thinking for this type of response.

     If you control the scene, the scene cannot control you”. It is here where we find this purpose. First responding haz-mat firefighters need a tool to control the scene “immediately”. Here, the tool becomes “Confinement”. Remember that confinement is defined as, "the sacrifice of a geographical area to eliminate the spread of the contaminant over an unlimited area". Regardless of how large the area is, it is still smaller than an uncontrolled “everywhere”.  

     Firefighting Foam is generally considered the ultimate in temporary vapor suppression. While it does not have the abilities of WMD decontamination foams, it does confine the vapors in the same manner. By decreasing vapor exposure or production, you can “confine” the incident preventing it from increasing.

     Once the scene has been determined to be a suspected WMD attack, Foam operations can begin using one Engine crew. For any scenario, imagine how quickly you can do this.

1] Isolate existing victims {do not treat; just have them move to an area isolated from the source}.

2] Engage Engine pump, stretch attack hand-line, to the suspected release site.

3] Apply firefighting Foam, covering release site.

     Always utilize a mid-expansion air-aspirating nozzle for the application. Any Engine Company of two men should be able to do this in the initial minutes. Since the release epicenter is likely to be small, one 5-gallon bucket of Foam may suffice. If this tactic overwhelms your worker-force, one firefighter with a Foam extinguisher and air-aspirating nozzle should be able to accomplish this task with the same results. Effectually, this will stop generation of contaminant vapors and minimize the number of future victims while “confining” the material to a localized area. While this may alter the evidence for law enforcement authorities, it will protect your citizens. More importantly, after you choose patient decontamination, EMS attendants may begin their work within moments of their arrival.


                                                                                                                 Haz Mat Mike




Re-useable Drums

     In today’s world of re-cycling, re-use, and conservation, getting the most from a container is environmentally sound. In most cases, re-using the 55 gallon steel drum is an obvious thought. The 55 gallon drum is one of the most shipped and common containers for many industrial solutions and powdered solids. So much so, that complete infrastructures, tools, shipping pallets and even truck dimensions have been built around its configuration. Many companies take part in a re-cycling operation that checks returned drums for faults and imperfections. If they pass inspection, the drum can be re-used for waste or another product without contaminating it in the process.

     Past the point of creating 55 gallon garbage cans and exterior rain barrels around your plant, there is an endpoint where you can find uses for empty drums. While these are all important functions necessary to operate facilities, you can only use so many trashcans. The ability of a plant operation to become involved in an intra-plant re-cycling of drums can decrease your overall waste and increase your over-all profit. If your product type allows you to empty your drum and remove all residual product to the human eye, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act {RCRA}, has mandated that drums can be made “RCRA clean” for non-foods items by power washing three consecutive times before re-use. In addition, they must be “intact” and not corroded on or through any surface area of the drum. Only you can determine “intactness”. If determined, multiple uses will be worth more to lower your operation costs but choices should be prudent. Cash savings can be made, but environmental consciousness in a positive manner may mean many more customers.

     One key towards obtaining a safe, conscious, results oriented re-use drum operation, is that of personnel. For the safest results, at least one person should shoulder the responsibility for the inspection of used drums. This is a serious obligation if the used drums will contain hazards. The second is proper documentation and UN {United Nations} markings. UN numbers validate that the container in question was properly constructed in the original manner. This allows you, the re-user to be confident you are beginning with an initial intact container. The third key is compatibility. Your inspection personnel must insure that the drum being “re-used” is compatible with and will NOT react with any product you place in it. Only these UN marked drums shall be embossed on the side of the drum and are useable for hazardous wastes. These makings will be under the upper lip near the top of the drum.

     Additionally, these markings let your inspector know that this container has met POP or “Performance Oriented Packaging” standards set down by 49 CFR 178. The markings will look similar to the following;

UN 1A1/X1.7/310


UN 1A2/X460/S

UN = United Nations

1= Drum

A= steel construction

1 or 2= 1 for a closed head drum, 2 for an open head drum

After the next / mark the letters X, Y, or Z will indicate the DOT {Department of Transportation} packing group that was originally shipped in that drum.

X= Will hold packing groups I, II, and III.

Y= Will hold packing groups II, and III.

Z= Will hold packing group III.

Packing groups must be identified and correspond to the appropriate letter when re-using the drum to carry hazardous waste. After the group letter will be a number. If the number is low and has a decimal in it, it refers to the specific gravity of the original product. If the number is high without a decimal, it refers to the maximum weight of the drum and its original contents in kilograms and should not be exceeded. The final number or letter regards the containers capabilities. If it is a number, this is the hydrostatic pressure for liquids {in kilograms} that the drum can withstand. If it is a letter, it determines the state of matter contained, such as {S} for solids.

     Many other features need to be taken into account if your re-useable drums contain hazardous waste. Drum intactness, original labels removed, proper closure and torque on the drum lid bolts, are but a few to be considered.

Click here for drawings.


                                                                                                      Haz Mat Mike   




     The “Haz-Kat” kit is an analytical toolbox of test devices to systematically determine which family a chemical contaminant fits into. With this information the haz-mat responder can at least determine what type of immediate hazards he or she is up against. This is an older detection type of device which has a number of benefits in the field. For long term field operations or remote locations, simplicity is best and will never fail you. Battery driven devices have re-charging issues, spent filters, and software foul-ups, all of which render the unit useless. Small chemical reactions and test paper type never fail so long as your inventory is complete. You can customize your Haz-Kat for whatever chemical family type you may frequently respond to as mitigator. My example is formatted for criminal chemical laboratory responses.

     The following is a step by step procedure I use when responding to clandestine methamphetamine drug lab scenarios. It gives the responder a step by step guide to determine all the commonly found chemicals you will be mitigating on a lab site. You can always add more in your Haz-Kat, just remember, if it does not get used it will get in your way. Click here to download. As long as you can determine the appropriate family the chemical belongs to, you can over-pack it in its proper container with the appropriate hazardous waste label for shipment.

     Following the step-by-step procedure is the actual inventory of my “kit”. If you expect to stay out in the field for longer than a few days, always take reserves for all disposable items. Manual tools eliminate some of the aforementioned challenges but you still always should have back-up supplies on hand.

     Safety on-site is achieved by the operational tactic of separation and isolation. After you have determined the chemical family of your contaminants, you can eliminate a step by isolating and separating right into their pre-determined hazard over-pack containers.

                                          Haz-Mat Mike


 Click here to download HC Inventory


Site Safety & Health Plan

     The SSP {Site Safety Plan} (Click here to download) is a necessary document mandated by OSHA {Occupational Safety and Health Administration} on every hazardous materials scene. Recently, on site inspections of this document for hazardous materials teams have intensified. The SSP must be filled out to the best of your ability and “POSTED” near your “Command” center. The failure to post on a vehicle, command board, or where ever you have space has earned more than one team a hefty fine. The most important feature of an SSP is its ease of use. If your document is too wordy or ambiguous to use, it won’t be. Many items can be included on your SSP, but if you confine yourself to the basics mandated it will be a useable tool and your response more manageable. Included in this SSP are the core requirements. You can add as much as you want, just remember, it must be functional to be used.

     First and foremost, you will need a response time log. This document replicates your station log book, and is valuable for after scene reports, cost recovery, contractor liability, and insurance claims. With this section you will be able to view the overall complexities that existed throughout the event. Also, problem areas found can be removed for future responses.

     The 2nd page is used to record overall site conditions. Location, area affected and exposures reveal the “Big Picture” of what has already occurred. An early report of weather conditions can affect your response capabilities and tactics, especially if the chemicals involved are reactive to light or rain. Onsite control recognizes the site responsibility, your Command Post, and contact number. The “immediate actions” include options for the initial arrival as well as providing the “Big Picture” when hazardous materials responders reach the scene. Valuable product information can be gathered by the first arrivals. Without the aid of a “Technician”, Engine Companies can determine whether a plume is rising or falling, if product is flowing across the ground surface or into it, and if it is entering the sewerage system.

     Once your Hazardous Materials Responders arrive, the chemicals data can be gathered. If it is a fixed site, NFPA 704 M data can be listed. Once Identification {ID} is determined, physical form, toxicology, and the materials physical properties are recorded. Decontamination should be listed, but only type, level of protection and the number of workers in the line are necessary. Radio channels for communication during the event should be listed to avoid confusion. Every Entry team should have auxiliary hand signals incase radios fail. These can vary for your operation, but they should be simple and consistent.

     Finally, the “Authorization for Operational Command” should be acknowledged by the big three, IC, Safety, and Site Security. This serves as written proof of an existing SSP filed for your hazardous site. The bottom section can be used as a site map indicating the immediate exclusion zone with its hazards. Posting this document not only satisfies OSHA requirements but offers later arriving responders updates to the current time. If you opt for a water-proof version, be sure to include these basic elements for overall clarity among responders.

                                    Haz Mat Mike