Escape of Hazardous Materials

What are Hazardous Materials?

Examples of commonly occurring hazardous chemicals include:

  • Paints
  • Cleaning chemicals, degreasers and detergents
  • Gas cylinders, refrigerant gases, liquefied petroleum gas, diesel fuel and petrol
  • Pesticides and herbicides
  • Welding fumes
  • Asbestos
  • Flammable liquids and gases
  • Corrosives such as acids and alkalis

Hazardous chemicals can be a solid, liquid or a gas and they can be found at home or in the workplace. Direct contact with or exposure to a hazardous chemical, usually through inhalation, skin contact or ingestion can cause skin irritation, cancer, respiratory illnesses and have an adverse effect on your immediate and long-term health. They can also cause harm to property and have an adverse effect on the environment.

Why a Hazardous Materials Spill is Considered an Emergency?

A chemical spill or uncontrolled chemical release can be anything from a material spill on the street to a gas leak in your home. If not managed or handled correctly harmful chemicals can cause fires, explosions, corrosion, and hazardous reactions.

Harmful chemical spills have the potential to cause:

  • Fire and smoke related injuries
  • Explosion related injuries
  • Skin exposure: Symptoms include skin dryness, blistering, redness, rashes, and itching.
  • Eye exposure: The most common symptoms of eye exposure are burning, itching, and watering of the eyes.
  • Respiratory tract exposure: Symptoms may include headache, nose and throat irritation, dizziness, and disorientation.
  • Chronic disease

A chemical spill can cause major disruption for many residents and neighbours if the following happens in the response and recovery phase:

  • Evacuations
  • Road Closures
  • Toxic Smoke release
  • Environmental damage

In the event of a large scale spill many residents could be displaced anywhere from a few hours to an indefinite period.


Roles and responsibilities
The National Strategy for Disaster Resilience, developed by the Council of Australian Governments, provides high-level guidance on disaster management to agencies with a role in emergency management. Foremost in the Strategy is the principle of all of society taking responsibility for preventing disasters.

In the context of hazardous chemical spills:

People should be aware of their own risks and should follow advice from emergency services when responding to warnings. It is important that you know how to protect yourself and others during a chemical release incident.

If an individual purchases and uses chemicals, they should know what the chemicals are for and have a control system for storage, use and disposal. Individuals should be aware of the following:

  • The hazardous properties of the chemical
  • Any potentially hazardous reaction (chemical or physical) between the hazardous chemical and another substance or mixture, including a substance that may be generated by the reaction
  • The nature of the work to be carried out with the hazardous chemical
  • Any structure, plant or system of work that is needed in the use, handling, generation or storage of the hazardous chemical or could interact with the hazardous chemical

The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) provides information and guidance to help households and communities understand their rights and obligations with regard to a number of areas of concern such as water and air quality, radiation and site contamination.

Individuals can make an assessment of their local area, Search for environmental authorisations, orders and applications by using the EPA Public Register online directory.

Information on potentially contaminating activity in your area can be found at the EPA Search site contamination index. You will also find information about how you can provide feedback and input on EPA activities through their consultations section.

To increase community resilience, individuals should actively plan and prepare for protecting their own life and property. Resilience is also increased by knowing and being involved in local community disaster or emergency management arrangements, and volunteer role

Government agencies, local governments and communities
Organisations should include chemical spills and associated risk within their Community Emergency Risk Assessment activities. This includes consideration within emergency management planning and land use planning.

Resilience is developed through land management and planning arrangements, assessment of risks, supporting individuals and communities to prepare for extreme events, and having effective education programs available.

Additional prevention tasks carried out by state and local government include:

  • Risk assessments to gain an appreciation of chemical spill risk
  • Engaging with the community regarding chemical spill risk
  • Working with communities to plan the management of chemical spills
  • Providing emergency information and chemical spill warnings
  • Ensuring an effective, well-coordinated response to a chemical spill event
  • Helping communities to recover and learn following an chemical spill and build their resilience to future events

Private Industry and businesses
Businesses play a fundamental role in supporting a community’s resilience to disasters. They provide resources, expertise and essential services on which the community may depend.

Businesses, including critical infrastructure providers, can also make a contribution by understanding the risks that they face and ensuring that they are able to continue providing services during or soon after a disaster.

Businesses should plan for the risk of disruption, and ensure arrangements are in place to maintain critical services where required.

The links below are designed to help businesses plan for emergency situations:
Business Continuity Plans - A quick guide to impact analysis and plan development
Plan and prepare - State Government advice on how to protect your business