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Hazardous Material Handling Essay

Chemicals are found in all places; they are used to enhance crop production, distill drinking water, and simplify everyday chores. But chemicals can also be hazardous to the environment as well as to humans if released or used inappropriately. These hazards can take place during disposal, use, transportation, storage, or production.  If a chemical is released in harmful amounts or used unsafely, it can cause lifelong health effects, serious injury, death, and damage to homes, buildings, and other property.

In the recent years, the Federal Bureau of Investigation publicly announced that terrorists are particularly interested in releasing hazardous material as well as in targeting their containers on American soil. Alarmingly, if terrorists succeed in such an attack in a populated vicinity, the result would be devastating. The number of casualties ensuing from such an attack would be enormous; dwarfing the fatality count in the 911 attacks.

Chemical, Biological and Nuclear Agents and Incidents

Deadly chemical, biological, and nuclear agents that may be employed by non-state actors or adversarial nations against civilians could cause mass casualties.  Other than calculated terrorist attacks and deliberate employment of NBC weapons during military operations, the hazards could result from the release of toxic radioactive matters, biological agents of operational significance, and industrial chemicals (Mauroni, 2007, p. 290). Basically, chemical incidents are depicted by rapid onset, from minutes to hours, of apparent health indicators. While in cases of radiological and biological incidents, the onset symptoms entails days to weeks, normally with no distinctive indicators.

A recent simulation by the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory revealed that if an attack should occur during a political event or other public celebrations, people could die at a rate of more than 100 per second and, within 30 minutes, up to 100,000 people could die (District of Columbia, Office of the Attorney General, 2005, p. 2). Likewise, a 2004 study by the Homeland Security Council found that even under less crowded circumstances, an attack in a metropolitan area would cause 100,000 hospitalizations, 10,000 severe injuries and 17,500 deaths (District of Columbia, Office of the Attorney General, 2005, p. 2).

I. Chemical Agents

Several types of toxic cyanide compounds may be used in terrorist attacks. Potassium or sodium cyanides are pale yellow-to-white salts that can be easily utilized to poison drinks or food. When combined with chemicals that enhance skin penetration, cyanide salts can be dispersed as a contact poison.

Toxic industrial chemicals such as mustard or nerve agents, in contrast, can be utilized in larger amounts to compensate for their inferior toxicity. Initial skin contact results in slight skin irritation, which turns into more acute yellow fluid-filled lesions (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003). Inhalation of mustard causes breathing problems, damages the lungs, and death by suffocation caused by water in the lungs.

II. Biological Agents

Bacillus anthracis, the bacterium that generates anthrax, is an attractive biological agent for terrorist attacks because it can endure different environmental conditions, and its inhalation could normally result in death. Anthrax can be used to contaminate water or food or disseminated in an aerosol to respectively cause ingestional or inhalational anthrax (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003).

III. Radiological and Nuclear Agents and Devices

An RDD or radiological dispersal device is designed to cause contamination of radioactive material due to its diffusing function.  A range of radioactive materials could be employed in a RDD, including Cobalt-60, Strontium-90, and Cesium-137 (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2003). Use of an RDD by terrorists could result in economic, environmental and health effects, as well as social and political effects. In a nuclear terrorist event, the hazards are nuclear radiation, shock or blast effect, and thermal radiation.

Developments on MAZMAT Incidents Approaches

Proper sample gathering is significant to preserve sample veracity for laboratory testing, to guarantee chain-of-custody documentation for possible legal actions, and basically to protect those on-site responders and victims (Association of Public Health Laboratories, 2008). Accordingly, in the recent years the laboratory training programs slowly and seriously take in a proactive sample collection seminar, along with familiarization with laboratory testing methods, as well as proficiency testing program.

These programs are intended to assure that first responders in the field will be able to accurately use hand-held testing devices, correctly understand test results and develop proper action plan derived from the findings. Moreover, in view of the fact the ability to detect impending terrorism agents is essential to effective and safe emergency response, Hazmat responders are now being trained on how to operate a range of Hazmat detection devices. As the war against terrorism has intensified, the number of technological advances and knowledge in the field of terrorist agent detection has also been improved among Hazmat teams.


Hazardous materials incidents cover a diversity of possible situations including explosions, transportation accidents, spills, fires, and similar events. Hazards may include chemical reactions, health hazards, toxicity, explosives, radiological hazards, or a combination of any of the said hazards. In view of these, terrorists have a wide range of alternatives of toxic materials and means for attacks. To adequately and safely counteract Hazmat terrorist attacks, Hazmat teams are regularly modernizing, as well as participating in related trainings, as these trainings identify their strengths and weaknesses not only of their respective teams, but how the teams works together when disaster does arise.

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