|1 class period
This activity helps
students understand how Federal, state, and local authorities
respond to chemical emergencies. In a facilitated discussion,
students identify activities that can result in spills and
other emergency situations that may cause hazardous materials
to be released. The difference between emergency situations
and other times when hazardous substances may be released
into the environment is explained. Students also discuss how
Federal, state, and local authorities respond to spills and
other releases of contaminants into the environment.
The Comprehensive Environmental
Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) directs the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other Federal agencies to
respond to emergency situations where exposure to hazardous
materials poses an immediate risk of harm. Emergency situations
covered by Superfund include chemical spills or fires. These situations
require immediate action to reduce or remove toxic hazards and stabilize
the contaminated area to prevent or minimize damage to people and the
environment. Usually state and local authorities are the first at the
scene of an emergency. After the immediate emergency has been addressed,
the site is evaluated to determine whether additional work is necessary.
If so, EPA, the state, or the responsible party will clean up the contamination.
For more information on emergency
planning and response, see the Suggested Reading
list found at the end of the Haz-Ed materials. Other Haz-Ed
materials that are related to this topic include Warm-Up
1: Defining Hazardous Waste and Warm-Up
2: EPA's Superfund Program-Overview.
Gather the following
- Read Fact Flashes
1 and 2
to prepare your lecture.
- Distribute Fact Flashes
1 and 2
and assign students to read them for homework.
- Review the characteristics
of hazardous substances and the strategy for emergency responses under
the Superfund Program, using the information in the Fact Flashes students
read for homework. Point out that this discussion will focus on situations
involving brief exposures to uncontrolled hazardous materials as happens
- Ask students to recall
any emergencies that have occured in their community or state involving
chemical spills, explosions, fires, or other incidents involving a
release of hazardous materials . Examples include a highway
accident involving an overturned truck carrying hazardous materials,
derailment of railroad tank cars carrying hazardous materials, an
explosion at an industrial plant, or an evacuation of a neighborhood
because of a hazardous materials spill or leak.
- Have a student list the
incidents mentioned on the chalkboard. Have students discuss the circumstances
surrounding these events. What happened? What chemicals were released?
Were the chemicals explosive, toxic, ignitable, or chemically reactive?
How was the emergency resolved?
- Distribute copies of the
Student Handout, Hazardous Materials Emergencies.
Give them 5 or 10 minutes to read it.
Use the incidents in
the Student Handout as a basis for discussion.
- Ask students what activities
and situations could result in accidents involving the acute release
of hazardous materials. Make a list of these activities on the chalkboard,
noting the names of any actual occurrences the class can name. Ask
what these types of activities have in common, besides the handling
of hazardous materials. (This discussion should point out that
many such incidents occur at industrial plants or when hazardous materials
are transported and that many pose a threat to people in the vicinity.)
- Go back to the list of
incidents on the chalkboard. Ask students to suggest what kinds of
things would have to be done to respond effectively in each case.
(For example, a chemical spill that contaminates drinking water could
require an alternative supply of drinking water, or a chemical fire
could require evacuating a neighborhood or a whole community.)
- Ask students who they
would expect to respond to these incidents. Would the response be
handled locally or would it require outside help? Who would decide
on the "action plan" for responding? How would they know what types
of hazardous materials are involved? If you were responsible for making
such decisions, what other sorts of information would you want?
- Ask students what makes
an emergency different from any other incident. Is it the materials
involved, the threat posed to the general population, or something
else? Does an emergency require some sort of sudden event (for example,
an explosion, fire, train wreck)? What sort of "emergency" might not
involve a sudden event (for example, a slow gasoline leak into a river)?
- Explain to students that
whether an incident is considered an emergency under the Federal Superfund
Program depends on the type of threat posed. For example, explosions
or fires in a chemical plant require an immediate response which,
in turn, requires quick decisions and immediate action to reduce or
eliminate hazards and stabilize the environment. Other threats, such
as a gasoline leak, once under control, allow for a longer planning
and decision making process related to the cleanup.
NOTE: You may want
to point out to students that the quick decisions needed to deal
with an "emergency" can sometimes result in more long-term problems.
For example, hundreds of miles of Germany's Rhine River were polluted
following a chemical fire at Basel, Switzerland. Firefighters used
water to extinguish the blaze. The runoff from the firefighting
washed tons of chemicals into the river.
- Ask students how they
would decide that the "emergency" is over? What if there is leftover
contamination? Who would they expect to deal with it?
- Invite local firefighters
or emergency medical technicians to speak to the class on how their
departments respond to chemical emergencies and how they interact
with other authorities in these situations. Encourage the speakers
to bring along any special equipment used in those situations.
- Ask for three volunteers.
Assign one to visit the local police department, another the local
fire department, and the third the local emergency medical service
(EMS), which may be part of the fire department in some communities.
Have the students interview officials about their chemical emergency
preparedness. Have them explore how emergency calls are received and
what plans are set into motion. What would happen locally in the event
of a hazardous material emergency? What actual emergencies has the
department handled? What is their interaction with state and Federal
authorities in these situations? Have the students prepare and present
the results of their interviews to the class.
- Invite an EPA or state
On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) involved in overseeing hazardous waste
cleanup projects to discuss a real emergency cleanup in your state
or region. Use the Contacts and Resources
listed at the end of the Haz-Ed materials.