VelocityEHS Offers HazCom Support for Emergency Responders, Businesses and Others Affected by Chemical Exposures from Hurricane Laura

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Hurricane Laura has already caused significant damage to the Gulf Coast area, including a fire and release of chlorine gas near Lake Charles, Louisiana. Read on to learn more about the chemical hazards posed by the storm and how VelocityEHS is helping with its disaster relief site that provides affected areas with access to millions of safety data sheets (SDSs).

Laura’s Chemical Hazards

Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards issued a shelter in place for residents, telling them to close their windows and turn off their air conditioning units to reduce risks of exposure to chlorine gas.

Chlorine plays a critical role in keeping drinking water clean and pools safe, among other benefits, but this important chemical can also pose a health, fire and explosion risk, especially if accidentally released -- as has reportedly been the case in Lake Charles Louisiana. According to Colonel Kevin W. Reeves, Superintendent of the Louisiana State Police, hurricane damage caused the release of an “undetermined” amount of chlorine from a facility that has historically specialized in the manufacture of chlorine-based products, including toilet bowl tablets, biocides and chlorinating granules, and this release started a fire. The fire resulted in the additional release of chlorine gas into the atmosphere.

Reeves stated that facility personnel made several unsuccessful attempts to extinguish the fire, and that by late Thursday, the fire had reached a “stable point.”

In addition to being a fire and explosion risk that reacts violently with or forms explosive compounds with common substances such as acetylene, ether, turpentine, ammonia, fuel gas, hydrogen and finely divided metals, chlorine gas is highly toxic. Even exposures to “low levels” of chlorine gas below 5 parts per million (ppm) in concentration can cause nose and throat irritation. Acute exposure to higher concentrations can cause symptoms including violent nausea, chest pains, corneal burns, chest pain, irreversible lung damage and potentially death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) advises anyone who has been exposed to chlorine gas to remove and dispose of contaminated clothing and thoroughly wash their entire body.

Continued Safety Risks
As Hurricane Laura continues to move northeast, it may cause additional damage to other industrial facilities and that could  create further chemical reactions and exposure risks for communities in its path. Port Arthur, a city in Jefferson County, Texas containing a major refinery, is situated within the range of Hurricane Laura. The refinery has a 14-foot levee, but there are estimates for surges of water from Hurricane Laura as high as 20 feet.

Hurricane warnings had already been issued for multiple areas, including Galveston and Galveston Bay, as well as portions of the Houston metro area, which is particularly vulnerable to flooding during overwhelming rainfall due to poor drainage systems. For reference, when Hurricane Harvey hit the area in 2017, local chemical plants reported over 365 tons of hazardous chemicals were release into the air, land and water.

Safety data sheets (SDSs) provide hazardous chemical users with accurate information about the health and environmental risks associated with those substances. While OSHA requires facilities to have these SDS documents, containing chemical hazard and safe handling information accessible to workers during their work shifts, a common practice is to amass these SDSs in paper binders only, making them potentially inaccessible in the event of evacuations and flooding. Without the information from these SDSs, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to understand the full impact of any releases involving the chemicals to which they pertain to the surrounding community, or for emergency responders to know how best to respond to fires and chemical releases. This creates additional risks for both first responders and affected communities. If you require information about the chemicals in your community, since the related dangers can extend beyond those that make headlines due to fires or known releases, you can reach out to your SERCs, your State Emergency Response Commissions.

Let VelocityEHS Help!

VelocityEHS is providing disaster relief support to those along the Gulf Coast recently impacted by Tropical Storm Marco and lay in the path of Hurricane Laura.

For a limited time, disaster relief agencies, emergency responders and businesses (customers and non-customers) operating in the affected areas can visit http://www.EHS.com/disaster and search through the millions of safety data sheets (SDSs) in the MSDSonline database to locate critical safety information for hazardous chemicals released during the storms. A dedicated toll-free telephone number (1-844-308-7011) has also been set up to help those who need a safety data sheet, but don’t currently have internet access.

Since initially launched in 2017, the Hazardous Chemical MSDS/SDS Access program has provided faster, easier access to critical chemical safety information to hundreds of businesses and relief organizations affected by major natural disasters. Through the aid of our mobile-optimized, industry-leading database of MSDSs and SDSs, more first responders, businesses, facilities and organizations are able to better protect their communities from any additional hazardous health repercussions.

Our Emergency Response Services (ERS) also makes it easy to ensure your employees always have the critical safety information they need, including support in the event of exposure.

Visit http://www.EHS.com/disaster to learn more.