Nuclear, biological and chemical incidents are common in all industrial societies.

Propane Explosion in Toronto, Canada

A veteran firefighter died trying to extinguish a massive fire at a propane depot in north Toronto, a blaze that closed major highways and forced thousands to flee their homes.

Cajon Pass Derailment

Hazardous chemicals and materials burn and explode after a train derailment.

Tanker Truck Rollover

A tanker truck truck carrying a full load of sulphuric acid, rolled over crushing the tank and spilling the entire load into the ditch.

Oleum Spill Caused Air Plume

An oleum spill at General Chemical caused a plume which resulted in thousands seeking medical treatment.


The January 5th, 1996 edition of the prestigious British Intelligence Digest, predicted that the American actions in support of Israel would result in a terrorism campaign against the United States. The editor Joseph de Courcy indicated that "recent reports confirm that U S security services believe such a threat to be not only credible, but inevitable". CIA (US Central Intelligence Agency) Director John Deutch stated before the US House of Representatives that "there is going to be tremendous growth in terrorism over the next decade or so, not only directed towards the Americans, but throughout the world". While the great majority of current terrorist attacks have employed guns and conventional (often huge) explosive devices there have already been some attacks with chemical weapons and there is some evidence of attempted use of biological agents as well. Basic chemical and biological weapons are well within the capabilities of almost ever terrorist group and gang, the more sophisticated and far more dangerous agents developed during and after World War II, are more difficult to get, but still can be had by any group with enough money or with the support of nations such as Iran, North Korea or Libya. New technology is rapidly bringing nuclear weapons within the reach of terrorists and it is not a matter of if, but when terrorist will have and use such a device. A nuclear detonation is not necessary. Even the dispersal of low grade nuclear waste (much easier to steal), perhaps in a conventional bomb or a dust could create great casualties and greater panic. In addition to these deliberate acts of nuclear, biological and chemical violence there is the constant threat of nuclear accidents such as at Three Mile Island (US 1979) and Chemobyl (USSR 1986).

Finally, there are thousands of chemical incidents ranging from household spills that may endanger a family to rail car and ship accidents that can pose a variety of threats to whole communities. The accidental release of biological agent from laboratories or the transportation of newly discovered diseases from third world areas such as the Ebola virus (slate wiper) that kills swiftly, surly and more horribly than anyone's nightmare. In 1984 a series of errors at a chemical plant in Bhopal India resulted in the death of 3,000 and injury to 40,000 people. Although the nuclear, chemical, medical and transportation industries take great precautions to prevent such catastrophes, there is no way to assure absolute safety.It can be stated with certainty that the probability of exposure to dangerous nuclear, biological and chemical agents resulting from deliberate acts or accidental events will continue to increase. These incidents may be on a local or on a world wide scale. Depending on luck or your local emergency agencies to save your self and your family from these hazards would he dangerous and irresponsible. Fortunately some basic knowledge and practical preparedness steps can greatly improve your chances of surviving these hazards.


Description: While the effects of blast and heat are common in some degree to all explosions and will not be covered here, a nuclear incident is unique because it produces radiation and radioactive fallout. Direct radiation from a blast consists of neutrons and gamma rays. Fallout consists of particulate matter (dust) ranging in size from a sand grain to a fine powder, which emits Alpha, Beta and Gamma radiation.

Sources and Delivery Systems: Nuclear missile warheads, nuclear gravity bombs, terrorist bombs, nuclear power plant accidents, deliberate or accidental contamination with nuclear waste material.

Physical Properties: Particulate dust, granular, ash, devolved in any liquid including water or as solid metallic radioactive material (e.g. uranium).

Methods of Detection: Generally requires instruments (e.g. dosimeters, survey meters) that measure radiation levels in roentgens or roentgens per hour. In some cases the material will be labeled.

Effects (signs and symptoms of exposure): Radiation damages and changes body tissue and blood cells. The extent of the damage and the severity of the symptoms are directly related to the amount of radiation and how long the victim is exposed to it. General symptoms include nausea, weakness, fatigue and diarrhea. More sever cases will exhibit hair loss, burns, fever and hemorrhage. In general, the appearance of these symptoms within 3 hours of exposure indicates a fatal dose where-as the appearance of symptoms after 24 hours or more indicates a high probability of recovery. Be aware that any exposure to radiation increases the risk of cancer and other medical problems.

Treatments: Clean and bandage burns and other injuries. Victims of radiation exposure are highly susceptible to infection. Treat nausea with appropriate medications. Maintain body fluids with oral or (if available) intravenous fluids. Treat for shock by keeping victim warm with feet slightly elevated, unless vomiting.

Protective Equipment: While heavy clothing will stop Alpha and Beta radiation, the only effective protection from Gamma radiation is to get out of the contaminated area FAST or taking shelter underground with as much soil, rock, brick, concrete, etc. between you and the outside as possible.The value of protective equipment is to keep radiation emitting particles out of your lungs and off of your body so that once you reach safety you can decontaminate. Dust masks and cloth can be used to protect mouth and nose. Rubber or plastic garments, such as rain wear or even plastic bags, can be used to protect the body. Plastic gloves and over-boots are essential. The head must be protected with a tight hood or rain cap (even a shower cap). The eyes should be protected with goggles, if available. Use tape and/or rubber bands to close sleeves and cuffs. Don protective equipment as soon as you are aware of potential hazards and keep it on until you reach a safe location were you can be decontaminated.

Decontamination Methods: Brush loose contamination off of protective clothing, and then wash down with lots of water, if available. If only small amounts of water are available, use wet cloth's to clean off protective clothing and dampen dust. Peel off protective clothing from the top down being very careful not to touch clothing or skin to the outside of the protective clothing. Peel off gloves last touching only the inside of the gloves. Wash any exposed skin and especially exposed hair.

Special Precautions: Filter all exposed water and decontaminate (wash off) all food containers before opening to prevent ingestion of radiation emitting particles. In general, you should remain in shelter for at least 7 days and limit activity (e.g. gathering food and water, etc.) outside of the shelter to no more than one hour per day for an additional 7 days. Note: In general, radiation decreases by a factor often for every seven fold increase in time. For example, if the radiation is 1000 r/hr at 10:00 am, it will be about 100 R/hr at 5:00 p.m., 43 R/hr at midnight and 10 R/hr after two days.


Radio Active Decay Over Time


Getting to an effective shelter in the shortest time possible is the best means of avoiding radiation.

Enough Room to Work

Immediate Shelters

The following table illustrates the thicknesses of various materials required to reduce the penetration from residual fallout gamma sources by 50 %: 

  1. Iron and steel .7 inches 
  2. Concrete 2.2 inches
  3. Brick 2.0 inches
  4. Dirt 3.3 inches
  5. Ice6.8 inches
  6. Wood (soft)8.8 inches
  7. Snow20.3 inches

The principle of half-value layer thickness is useful in understanding the absorption of gamma radiation by various materials. According to this principle, if 2 in­ches of brick reduce the level of gamma radiation by ½, adding another 2 inches of brick will reduce the intensity by another ½, namely to ¼ the original amount; 6 inches will reduce the level of fallout gamma radiation to 1/8th its original amount; 8 inches to 1/16th; and so on.


Description: Viruses and micro-organisms that are capable of being transmitted to the human body and have serious and often terminal effects once they have infected the victim.

Sources and Delivery Systems: These organisms may be introduced into an area by deliberate acts of military operations (e.g. bombs, shells, sprays, etc.), terrorist acts or laboratory accidents. Once an area is contaminated there are four ways a victim can become infected:

1) CONTACT: direct physical contact between an infected person and the victim. 2) AIRBORNE: inhaling the organism from the air (e.g. spray, bomb, cough, etc.). 3) VEHICLE: ingestion of the organism with contaminated water, food, etc. 4) VECTOR: injection of the organism from insect, parasite or animal bites. Usually a particular organism will only be transmitted through one or two of these methods.

Physical Properties: Biological agents have no specific appearance, color or odor.

Methods of Detection: Impossible to detect without medical tests, unless labeled.

Effects (signs and symptoms of exposure): The variety of biological agents is unlimited and therefore it is impossible to list specific signs and symptoms. Symptoms may appear within hours of exposure or take weeks to develop and may range from flu-like conditions to paralysis and death. The appearance of common symptoms that appear at the same time in victims, who have been in the same place at or near the same time, may well indicate the presents of a biological agent at that place and time.

Treatments: If the identity of the biological agent is established specific antibiotics may be effective. In the absence of specific medications, treatment must be aimed at controlling the symptoms, keeping the victim comfortable, good hygiene and strict prevention of exposure, dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, hemorrhaging, open sours, respiratory problems and weakness are all common symptoms that medical aid personnel should be prepared to handle.

Protective Equipment: In the presents of any suspected biological agent, and contaminated materials including body fluids and waste of victims (alive or dead) of a communicable disease, the objective must be to keep the infection off of and out of the body. Non-permeable (rubber, Tyvek, plastic, etc.) clothing is best. Protect eyes, nose and mouth with goggles and a medical or dust mask. In some cases only a high efficiency respirator will protect against infection; if in doubt wear the best available respiratory protection. Be sure to protect your hair.

Decontamination Methods: Wash down with soap and water or 10% bleach and water solution, if available. Peel off protective clothing from the top down being very careful not to touch clothing or skin to the outside of the protective clothing. Peel off gloves last touching only the inside of the gloves. Wash any exposed skin with soap and hot water and especially exposed hair.

Special Precautions: All contaminated, body waste, contaminated medical supplies (e.g. bandages, etc.) masks, gloves and disposable clothing should be burned and/or buried. Medical equipment and clothing should be washed with disinfectant solution or boiled for at least 30 minutes. Medical facilities and transport vehicles must be scrubbed down with disinfectant by personnel wearing protective equipment. Be aware that while some organisms cease to be infectious after a few hours in air or sunlight, others may be infectious for days or weeks after being deposited especially in warm, damp, dark areas. Some newly discovered organisms and some biological warfare agents are extremely contagious via several means and are very difficult to kill. The best defense in such cases is evacuation and isolation.


Description: Toxic chemicals are present in every home in every town and on every highway and railroad track. Every modem military organization stocks some forms of chemical warfare agents. These agents range from irritants such as Tear Gas to lethal agents such as Sarin and Somin. Exposure to toxic chemicals is much more probable that exposure to biological warfare agents or radioactive materials.

Sources and Delivery Systems: Chemical warfare agents may be delivered as sprays from aircraft, in bombs, missiles or artillery shells. Terrorists will generally release agents in places where there is a concentration of people (e.g. public buildings, train stations, airports, etc.). Commercial hazardous chemicals will be found in storage tanks, rail cars and tank trucks.

Physical Properties: Most chemical warfare agents will be in the form of a mist cloud or droplets. Hazardous chemicals may be visible as a cloud or liquid or they may be invisible in the air. Many hazardous chemicals have distinctive odors but some have no odor at all. Obviously the presents of unidentified vapors or odors should initiate precautions but the lack of such signs does not mean its safe.

Methods of Detection: Military and industrial instruments can be used to detect specific chemicals in the air. Strange odors such as bleach, sulfur, almonds, may warn of a chemical agent; eye irritations, skin irritation and respiratory problems are sure warning signs. The presents of dead or dying animal and plant life in an area should warn of possible chemical (or other) contamination. The presents of mists or droplets or unusual containers are also a warning sign. Commercial tanks and vehicles of all types are required to display warning placards on all four sides.

Effects (signs and symptoms of exposure): Chemical warfare agents are categorized into seven groups and although commercial agents are not categorized this way, there symptoms will follow the same patterns. The symptoms of exposure to commercial chemicals will be available in Material Safety Data Sheets that are kept at storage sites or in the vehicles that transport them. Industrial label requirements will show Health, Flammability and Reactivity rated from 0 to 4. 0 indicating no hazard 123 and for increasing levels of hazard.

Nerve Agents (including Tabun, Sarin and Somin): Cause headaches, dizziness, dimmed vision, and nausea. At high doses there will be breathing difficulty, chest tightness, convulsions, paralysis and death.

Blood Agents (including Hydrocyanic acid and Cynogen chloride): Cause cherry red skin (like carbon monoxide) increase or decrease in breathing rate, choking, headache agitation, comma and death.

Blister Agents (including mustard gas, lewisite and phosgene): Blisters from direct contact with droplets cause skin irritation and reddening from vapors. Effects may appear up to 12 hours after exposure. Skin effects may take from 6 days to 8 weeks to heal. Sever eye irritation and permanent eye injury can result. If inhaled sever respiratory irritation and pneumonia can result.

Choking Agents: Irritation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes, coughing, choking, tightness in the chest, nausea, vomiting, congestion, hypoxia and death.

Vomiting Agents: Pepper like irritation to upper respiratory track, eye irritation, burning throat, sneezing, coughing, headache, nausea and vomiting; often used in combination with other agents as vomiting forces you to remove your respirator.

Incapacitating Agent: Disrupts the central nervous system causing those exposed to be incapacitated for periods of hours or even days, but usually is not lethal. Large doses however may affect breathing and other vital functions enough to become dangerous.

Riot Control Agents: Severe, but temporary eye and skin irritation; irritation of upper respiratory tract with coughing and sneezing; some times nausea and vomiting. Affects usually last no more than 5 to 10 minutes in fresh air.

Treatments: Thorough and immediate decontamination (washing) of skin and eyes is essential. Skin irritations can be treated with hydrocortisone or other skin medications. Cover open blisters and prevent infection. Turn victim on side to prevent aspiration of vomit. Administer oxygen (if available) for all respiratory exposures. Seek immediate advanced medical aid for eye and respiratory contacts.

Placards and Material Safety Data Sheets are the best means of identifying a chemical.

4 Digit Placards like these are always used on trucks or rail cars carrying over 1,000 lbs. of Hazardous Materials.


Class or Division numbers may be displayed in the bottom of placards or in the hazardous materials description on shipping papers. In certain cases, a Class or Division number may replace the written name of the hazard class description on the shipping papers. The Class and Division numbers have the following meaning:


These placards are generally used on storage tanks.





0.......Minimal Hazard
1..........Slight Hazard
2........Moderate Hazard
3..........Serious Hazard
4..........Severe Hazard

Other Hazardous Waste Labels

Personal Protective Equipment Codes


These Should Be Found On All Four Sides OF Tank Cars, Trucks And Storage Containers.


Look up the chemical by the name (blue pages) or by the I. D. Number (yellow pages), then go to the recommended Guide Number (orange pages) to find out what to do.


Material Safety Data Sheets serve as the primary means for transmitting infor­mation about toxic substances. A MSDS can vary in format from one to several pages in length, but they all must contain the fol­lowing information:

Section I - Manufacturer's Name and Contact Information. The chemical name or the identity used on the label. The name on the product label should be the same as that used on the MSDS. It may be a chemical name, brand name or even a product number. Additionally, the CAS or IUPAC chemical name of the toxic ingredients must be listed.

Section II - Hazardous Ingredients/Identity Information Physical and chemical characteristics. This section defines how a substance reacts in the environment.

Section III - Physical/Chemical Characteristics. The data will include flash point and vapor pres­sure. This information is useful for engineers to design ventilation systems to control toxic vapor.

Section IV - Fire and Explosion Hazard Data. The potential for fire, explosion or reactivity. This data helps determine the fire hazard of a substance and the conditions that may cause a gas, vapor, mist or dust explosion.

Section V - Reactivity Data. Special protection or special extinguishers may be listed here because many chemicals, particularly organics, burn to produce vastly different and potentially more dangerous products.

Section VI - Health Hazard Data. Acute and chronic health effects. This section should include the signs of overexposure, such as nausea, headache, dizziness, for both acute (short-term) and chronic (long-term) exposure. This section also may list the organs of the body, such as the liver, kidneys or nervous system, which may be affected. This information will be impor­tant to your medical doctor if you are suffering any exposure symptoms; the primary route of exposure. This section will give the primary way the substance will enter the body through inhalation, absorption or ingestion. The permissible exposure limit (PEL) is the legally allowed concen­tration in the work place which is considered a safe level of exposure for an eight hour shift, 40 hours per week. Emergency and first aid procedures are here. This is for victims of acute inhalation, skin or eye contact, or ingestion of a hazardous material.

Section VII - Precautions for Safe Handling and Use. These may be as simple as washing your hands thoroughly after handling the product, or storage instructions for the product. Recommended personal protective equipment may be in this section or Section IV. This includes the types of gloves, goggles, aprons and respirators to use when working with the substance.

Section VIII - Control Measures. Procedures for clean-up of leaks or spills. This should include precautions to be taken for employee protection. Instructions for disposal methods may be very general or may merely refer to government regulations for disposal. Recommended engineering controls may include ventilation systems, eye wash areas, showers, etc.

Also required on the MSDS are: the date the MSDS was prepared and/or changes were made; and the name, address and 24-hour, telephone number of the employer, manufacturer or supplier who prepared the MSDS.


a CNS - Central nervous system.

b CBC - Complete blood count.

c Long-term effects generally manifest in 10 to 30 years.

d RBC - Red blood count.



Decontamination is the process of removing a harmful material from anything. Decontamination techniques can be applied to the skin, the eyes, the hair, clothing, protective clothing, equipment, food, water and any surfaces that may be contaminated. It is much more desirable to avoid contamination than it is to have to decontaminate. If personal contamination is unavoidable then cover as much of the body as possible with non-permeable materials such as plastic or rubber will make decontamination much more practical and safe. In general decontamination involves washing thoroughly with water or a water solution. If water is not available in the amounts needed techniques such as dusting off or damp rag wipe downs can be used, but are far less effective. Keep in mind that there are two objectives to any decontamination operation: 1. Get the contaminant material off and away from the contaminated person. 2. Avoid the spread of the contaminant to other persons and other occupied areas. The military and industry have developed excellent protective techniques and equipment for protecting people from nuclear, biological and chemical hazards and for thorough decontamination. While civilians may not always have these costly and complicated systems available, knowledge of the basic principals of protection and decontamination combined with skilled use of those material that are available, can very greatly improve a citizens survival potential. Any level of protection is far better than no protection and any system for decontamination (providing it does not spread contamination), is better than remaining contaminated. Knowledge is the potential power to survive. Applied knowledge is the essence of survival and the key to freedom.



1. Keep as far away from contaminated areas as possible.

2. Keep up wind and uphill of contamination.

3. Get out of any contaminated areas FAST.

4. If contaminated, get contaminated clothing off and wash off thoroughly and immediately.

5. Don protective clothing and respirator immediately if exposure is possible.

6. Decontaminate all (every inch) protective clothing before removal.

7. Decontaminate all water and all food containers.

8. If in doubt wash it!



Protection should be worn when the highest level of respiratory, skin, eye, and mucous membrane protection is needed.


  • Positive-pressure (pressure-demand), self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA – NFPA, OSHA, NIOSH approved).
  • Fully encapsulating chemical resistant suit.
  • Gloves, inner, chemical resistant.
  • Gloves, outer, chemical resistant.
  • Boots, chemical resistant, steel toe and shank; (depending on suit boot construction, worn over or under suit boot).
  • Underwear, cotton, "Long-John" type.
  • Hard hat (under suit).
  • Coveralls (under suit).
  • Two-way radio communications (intrinsically safe).


Protection should be selected when the highest level of respiratory protection is needed, but a lesser level of skin and eye protection. Level B protection is the minimum level recommended on initial site entries until the hazards have been further identified and defined by monitoring, sampling, and other reliable methods of analysis, and personnel equipment corresponding with those findings utilized.


  • Positive-pressure and SCBA.
  • Chemical resistant clothing (overalls and long sleeved jacket, coveralls, hooded two piece chemical splash suit, disposable chemical resistant coveralls).
  • Coveralls (under splash suit).
  • Gloves, inner, chemical resistant.
  • Gloves, outer, chemical resistant.
  • Boots, outer, chemical resistant, steel toe and shank.
  • Two-way radio communications (intrinsically safe).
  • Hard hat.


Protection should be selected when the type of airborne substance is known, concentration measured, criteria for using air-purifying respirators met, and skin and eye exposure is unlikely. Periodic monitoring of the air must be performed.


  • Full-face, air-purifying respirator (OSHA/NIOSH approved).
  • Chemical resistant clothing )one-piece coverall, hooded two piece chemical splash suit, chemical resistant good and apron, disposable chemical resistant coveralls).
  • Gloves, inner, chemical resistant.
  • Gloves, outer, chemical resistant.
  • Boots, chemical resistant, steel toe and shank.
  • Cloth coveralls (inside chemical protective clothing).
  • Two-way radio communications (intrinsically safe).
  • Hard hat and escape mask.


Is primarily a work uniform. It should not be worn on any site where respiratory or skin hazards exist.



Disposal of contaminated tools and first wash down. Self administered.


Scrub down giving special attention to folds, groin, arm pits, fingers, etc.


Final wash down. Each boot bottom is washed as you exit the pool.


Careful removal of protective clothing.  All contaminated tools, clothing, water, plastic, etc., must be disposed of safely.

Protective Equipment: Shed all contaminated clothing and wash immediately. Cover the entire body, head to foot with non-permeable (rubber, plastic, etc.) clothing including boot covers, hood and gloves, seal open cuffs and collar etc. with tape. Protect eyes, nose and mouth with a full face military respirator or a commercial respirator with an acid gas filter. Be sure to protect your hair. A rain poncho or even plastic bags can be used in an emergency

Decontamination Methods: Shed all contaminated clothing and wash thoroughly. Thoroughly wash down (shower) protective clothing before removal. Peel off protective clothing from the top down being very careful not to touch clothing or skin to the outside of the protective clothing. Peel off gloves last touching only the inside of the gloves. Wash any exposed skin with soap and hot water and especially exposed hair.

Special Precautions: Chemical agents (military and commercial) may remain for weeks or months contaminating wood, brick, concrete, metal surfaces, clothing, water etc. Contaminated areas must be isolated and decontaminated to prevent exposure. Agents deposited in cold weather may become active and volatile in warm weather.Many chemicals vapors and gases are heavier than air. They will gather in low areas (valleys, pits, basements) and remain for some time. They will also flow down hill following ditches, streams and valleys. AVOID THESE AREAS!!



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