Chemical Release

1036 words | 4 page(s)

Toxic chemical releases must be handled in a systematic manner to ensure that the threat to life and to property are handled in a rapid manner. This systematic manner is referred to as the Incident Command System (ICS). In the given scenario, a pesticide manufacturing plant has a chemical leak involving the chemical methyl isocyanate (MIC). The release occurred during the day shift when over 1,000 individuals were at work, and therefore at risk for exposure. This paper will examine the proper way to handle this chemical release utilizing ICS.

The leak occurred after water penetrated the vault that stored MIC. Due to an increase in the pressure in the system, the vault began to vent MIC. There is no other additional information given with regards to where the vault was stored or how many individuals were directly impacted. As such, the system must prepare for the worst possible case, in order to ensure the safety of all individuals.

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MIC is an organic compound. The chemical has a detrimental impact on the respiratory system, and thereby, the overall health of the individual. It is considered to be highly toxic and a strong irritant and is therefore extremely hazardous to the health of humans and animals. The chemical was the major chemical released in the tragic 1984 Bhopal incident that killed 8,000 individuals in the immediate aftermath. The eventual death toll for this incident is estimated at 20,000 to 30,000 individuals (Broughton, 2005, p. 6).

Incident command must be established by the highest ranking individual. The most important thing is to evacuate the immediate area. Sadly, not all individuals may be evacuated. Due to the hazard of the chemical, individuals who cannot rapidly evacuate the area will need to be removed by a hazardous materials (haz mat) crew in full protective gear. Tragically, this likely means the death of individuals who were not evacuated. However, the area must be isolated. If the vault is within the building, the area should be sealed off. As this is a chemical manufacturing plant, the doors and windows should be able to seal properly and help to contain the chemical to some degree. If the vault is outside the structure, the release will occur into the atmosphere. This has the potential to create a large number of casualties. A hazard analysis should have been conducted as part of the planning process. This would identify that this hazard has the potential for significant loss of life.

Incident command should request additional resources at this time. IC must establish immediate priorities. These priorities include minimizing the loss of life and stabilizing the scene. A haz mat team (which should be available on site at all chemical plants) should be requested. This team can help to stabilize the situation by possibly isolating the leak. Since there are likely to be a large number of casualties, local EMS and hospitals must be made aware of the incident. This will allow them time to prepare an adequate response, including calling specialists and additional personnel to work. The incident commander should also establish individuals who can advise him in this scenario. This includes a safety sector, as well as operations, planning and logistics. A financial sector is not needed in the early stages of an operation; however, if there is a significant loss of life and property damage, this sector will be needed later in the process (Occupational Safety and Health Administration, 2014).

Incident command should obtain a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) pertinent to this chemical. This will provide immediate information regarding this chemical. (In reality, the plant should have a detailed plan regarding the possible release of this chemical, along with other hazardous materials.) The MSDS on MIC indicates a health rating of four (potentially lethal). It has a flammability rating of three and a reactive rating of two. This indicates that it is flammable at all temperature and it may reactive violently. Furthermore, it has a special warning with regards to water. It can explode if it comes into contact with water. It may be fatal at 2 parts per million (Cameo Chemicals, n.d.).

Based upon this information, the IC should evacuate the structure. There is a potential for the tank to explode since water has penetrated it. Unfortunately, the tank must be allowed to vent itself to relieve some of the pressure. This will help to decrease the risk of explosion. The chemical is approximately twice as heavy as the air. Therefore, it will seek areas downhill. Any communities that are lower than the chemical plant should be immediately evacuated. Furthermore, the IC should contact the weather authorities to determine if it is windy, and if so, in what direction. This will also provide useful information for evacuation scenarios. If any buildings cannot be evacuated (such as nursing homes), they should be sheltered in place with the windows and doors sealed from the inside. These initial steps will provide the necessary means to protect the greatest amount of life. Any nearby chemical or manufacturing plants that have any antidote kits should be contacted, as there is the possible need of a large number of victims. All local hospitals must be alerted as to the nature of the chemical as well.

Once all individuals have been evacuated or sheltered, the IC must work to stabilize the incident. Unfortunately, there is a significant risk of explosion. As such, the initial stabilization will consist of allowing the chemical to vent. A chemical specialist will be required to determine the next stabilization step. At this point, a unified command would be necessary. This would allow the local fire department, EMS chiefs and other necessary individuals to work together to prevent the loss of life and property.

The Incident Command System allows a systematic method of responding to disasters and emergencies. With regards to a chemical emergency, it is important to seek out additional information, including MSDS and chemical experts. A strong incident commander recognizes that he or she cannot proceed without this information.

  • Broughton, E. (2005). The Bhopal disaster and its aftermath: a review”. Environmental Health 4, 6.
  • Cameo Chemicals. (n.d.). Methyl isocyanate. Retrieved from: http://www.cameochemicals.noaa.gov
  • Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (2014). Incident command. Retrieved from: https://www.osha.gov/

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