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Haz Mat "Specialist Course"


     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


Vapor Density and Specific Gravity

Vapor Density and Specific Gravity are integral concepts that can tell you where your hazardous spill or release will go. If you understand how these relate to your product you can accurately predict and anticipate needed changes to your scene before citizens or responders become exposed. This of course, minimizes injury and contamination. Both vapor density and specific gravity are based on an arbitrary scale surrounding both sides of the numeral 1. Vapor Density measures the weight of a gas or vapor in air, using 1 as the weight of normal outside air. Specific gravity measures the weight of a liquid or solid in water, using 1 as the weight of normal water.

Vapor Density using this scale gives us immediate information allowing us to formulate our future plume dispersion plans. If the vapor density is determined from chemical information resources to be less than 1 a number of constants can be calculated. For most vapors lighter than air, the tendency upon release, {In addition to rising in the sky} is to dissipate and become weaker very fast. This is beneficial for a number of reasons.

  1. Evacuation is non-existent or confined to the immediate area.
  2. Exposure to un-protected persons is usually minor.
  3. Day-to-Day operations are minimally disrupted.
  4. Mitigation equipment of the released vapor is natural dispersion.

All four of these response issues decrease the drain on your man-power and equipment. Generally the contamination area is small and can be dealt with by few responders. Since confinement is impossible, and containment depends on the vessel releasing the vapor plume, tactics should involve the use of an air monitoring device. Once the plume direction has been evaluated it is critical to determine the location of the PEL {Permissible Exposure Limit} on the downwind side affecting civilians. Beyond this position evacuation is not necessary and harm to the public will be limited to an unpleasant irritating odor. By placing one firefighter at this point to prevent civilians from entering any area above the PEL, you have isolated the area of contamination from the public. This is one reason why chemical facilities are usually found with large area sites. If a plume dispersion scenario occurs, their fenced in grounds may be large enough for this to occur. In this case, their fence eliminates the need to post a firefighter or employee at the PEL limit downwind.

If the Vapor Density of the release is greater than 1, other issues are presented. Entrapment in confined areas by vapors, asphyxiation, and unstable air currents, are just some of the concerns. As you can see by the drawings, heavier than air vapors will fall near the ground right where we humans breathe. If they fall into a sub-level area we may be asphyxiated. Generally, these heavier than air vapors with a vapor density greater than 1 tend to stay concentrated for a longer time. As a result, they are more hazardous remaining above their PEL, and from the physics of being denser than air. Since there are uneven air currents near the ground surface, these toxic vapors can travel quite far and still remain above the PEL. If they are flammable, they can re-surface inside a building through basement drains, possibly finding an ignition source, such as the water heater or furnace creating explosion possibilities. Because of these properties, a response to a scene involving a vapor release greater than 1 will require more man-power and equipment. If in an industrial area, streets will need to be roped off. If in a residential area, door-to-door warnings may have to be implemented. These actions will all require a larger commitment from your department.

Specific Gravity involves the same type of arbitrary scale of 1, except now we are evaluating the weight of a material when mixed in any form of water. Sewer drains, lakes, oceans, etc, if the information resources data reveal a number less than 1, the material will float on top of water, much like gasoline in a puddle does. If the data reveals a value above 1, it will sink as in the example of Carbon Disulfide. Since most contaminants spilled have a specific gravity less than 1, you will find much re-mediation equipment and data for these types of spills. Booms, Vactors, Absorbent Pads are among some. The general format for these spills is the area is larger but the contaminant is easier to pick-up and retain. It does however require vast equipment and man-power for open water, less than 1 specific gravity, spilled contaminant. Defining “easier” becomes the issue. For spills with a specific gravity above 1, which sink to the bottom of a waterway you will not find much remediation data or equipment. These types of spills are less frequent and very expensive to mitigate the bottom of a waterway. The three most common treatments for this type of spill are:

  1. Natural environment absorption, which sometimes works and sometimes ruins a waterway.
  2. Specialized dive teams with imbibed absorption capabilities.
  3. Overall reduction of these chemicals uses, by switching to a non-hazardous alternative.

This concept is quickly becoming the industry standard for many hazardous chemicals. Ultimately, while this is best for people and the environment it may also eliminate the need for us Haz-Mat guys.

Haz Mat Mike


Monomers Into Polymers

     Monomers can be thought of as the constituents of polymers. What this statement refers to is how these molecular units are related to each other, rather than their pure chemical make-up. When monomers form polymers they do change into a new compound with its own set of unique chemical properties. This change is what gives polymers their vast use in industry and in many common place materials that can save us time and maintenance in our daily lives.
     Monomers can be thought of as a bag of individual chain links all floating separate next to each other, but not connected. In the monomer state they remain this way, through the application of an “Inhibitor”. An inhibitor is essentially the reverse of a catalyst. The inhibitor PREVENTS a reaction from taking place. For emergency response, the inhibitor has its challenges. Inhibitors are time dependent as to how long they will continue to be effective, or prevent a reaction. Inhibitors are also affected by sunlight and exterior temperature. If the time lapses longer than the effective rate of the inhibitors life or exterior temperatures increase or the monomer becomes exposed to sunlight, polymerization can occur. This is exactly what has happened in these photographs.
     When polymerization occurs, all the floating chain links combine together to form one long chain, quickly! When this occurs in an industrial process reactor, the result is a new desired product which can then be formed into all manner of things we use in our daily lives. However, if it occurs outside of this reactor process, such as in a transportation vehicle involved in an accident three things are likely to occur:

  1. Tremendous heat is evolved by the polymerization process.
  2. Rapid expansion occurs.
  3. Violent shaking of the vessel containing the monomers evolves.

    All three of these challenges can injure emergency responders in close proximity of a container with a failed inhibitor. Extra heat can burn responders or hinder firefighting operations. Rapid expansion can overflow into other areas making the environmental spill worse or cause an explosion of the vessel injuring responders from blast and container shrapnel. Violent shaking of a container can disconnect one vessel from another causing more contamination or physical injury to workers or responders.
     The greatest hazard for responders when dealing with monomers is the potential for polymerization and detonation. The main challenge will be to determine the length of time you have until the inhibitor wears out. After that, detonation can be imminent. As you can see by these photographs, this turned out to be a slow leak of the polymer transformation yielding the traditional “Green Goo” we Haz-Mat people are known for. Can you imagine the injury and damage potential if this 55 gallon had detonated? Respect polymerization potential, especially if it’s next to 1075!

Haz-Mat Mike


Cool Environmental Solution

     I believe as hazardous materials responders we are always part of the solution. Whether the response is environmental, fire, or EMS, we are always improvising solutions to our immediate problems in order to save lives. While National Foam responds to fire or hazardous materials vapor suppression incidents, they too improvise solutions to save lives. Whether it is with an impressive array of Foam solutions, portable equipment or stationary fixed systems, now they can tackle the environment. While this solution may not be Haz Mat response, it’s just plain cool.
     Several years ago, ACT Inc., specializing in lake restoration purchased a portable eductor for a unique device they were developing. Their machine was designed to apply environmentally sound chemicals to the lake bottoms containing an overabundance of weeds or algae. The chemicals involved, when mixed together, formed a “flock” which settled on the lake bed, inhibiting the germination and growth of nuisance vegetation.
     Only one problem, the application of these chemicals had to be mixed under water to be effective. ACT’s concept was to construct a floating platform with the device mounted underneath. It consisted of two, above deck mounted feeder {distribution} pipes, one for each chemical, and one mixing pipe. The two chemicals were applied by small spray nozzles inside the mixing pipe. As the sprays mixed, the “flock” was created and settled to the lake bottom.
     When ACT designed the original device, they contacted National Foam for an effective proportioning unit for this system. The end result was an eduction device that proportioned the chemicals from drums on the floating platform and carried them in the proper quantities into the two feeder pipes.
     After this success, ACT ordered a second eductor for yet another application device. So, while nuisance lake vegetation continues to threaten our lakes, National Foam continues to respond to our environment. See, I told you it was cool.

Haz Mat Mike