Text Box 1
What Are Chemical and
Biological Agents? Chemical and biological agents are substances that can be used to inflict lethal or incapacitating casualties. Incidents involving such agents can occur from deliberate, accidental, or natural releases. Chemical agents discussed in this chapter include a wide range of toxic substances, such as nerve agents, blister agents, choking agents, incapacitating agents (e.g., tear gas), and toxic chemicals and metals. Some agents were first developed for military operations (such as sarin and VX nerve agents) and some are common toxic industrial chemicals (such as chlorine and ammonia).
Biological agents include naturally occurring microorganisms and novel microorganisms created in the laboratory. Some agents can be weaponized and disseminated through the air (such as aerosolized anthrax), and some agents are intentionally modified to be resistant to multiple antibiotics.
The purpose of this chapter is to help emergency responders respond safely and effectively to incidents involving chemical or biological agents, as defined in Text Box 1. As always, saving lives and preserving public health take precedence over all other considerations. This chapter provides an overview of chemical and biological agents, as well as procedures unique to the release of these agents. It focuses on biological agents because they are not addressed elsewhere in the manual.
This chapter does not discuss individual agents in detail; providing comprehensive information on the many potential agents is beyond its scope. However, emergency responders should maintain a working knowledge of the agent categories and their general properties. Chemical and biological agents are discussed together in this chapter because many response procedures are the same for both types of releases. Moreover, this chapter does not address any classified substances or agents. For additional information on specific chemical and biological agents see the U.S. National Response Team’s (NRT’s) Quick Reference Guides.
An emergency response to the release of a chemical or biological agent is similar to a conventional hazardous material (HAZMAT) incident response. However, there are some important differences that may have profound implications for the responders. Chemical and biological agents may be designed to be extremely difficult to identify in real time. They can be lethal in very small amounts that are hard to detect. Even after a substance is identified, experiential knowledge on which to base an effective response plan is limited. Further complicating the response, emergency responders may need to follow special procedures to treat the incident site as a crime scene. A biological agent release and its magnitude may be detected through the BioWatch program. The release of biological agents or chemical agents may also be recognized through epidemiological information as victims develop symptoms. These factors pose unique challenges to those charged with responding to an incident.
EPA is responsible for supporting state and local responders addressing the environmental consequences of a chemical or biological incident to minimize or mitigate human health threats. In this capacity, EPA serves as a safety net to state and local first responders by providing a range of capabilities (e.g., characterization, decontamination, clearance sampling, and waste disposal). During such an incident, EPA emergency responders will likely integrate into or establish an Incident Command System/Unified Command. As in the case of a conventional HAZMAT response, each incident is unique and response procedures as well as site-specific health and safety plans (HASPs) must be developed based on the site-specific hazards.
Besides chemical or biological agents, emergency responders may be exposed to other health and safety hazards during response activities. The hazards listed below are covered elsewhere in this manual:
Inhalation hazards (see the Respiratory Protection Program chapter)
Skin and ingestion hazards (see the Personal Protective Equipment [PPE] Program chapter)
Heat stress, cold stress, fatigue, and noise exposure (see the Physical Stress Management Program chapter)
Confined space entry (see the Confined Space Safety Program chapter)
Ionizing radiation (see the Radiation Safety Program chapter)
Bloodborne pathogens (see the Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Control Plan chapter)
In addition to the regulations and standards listed below, other chapters in this manual also present regulatory authorities that address the health and safety of emergency responders. See, for example, the regulatory basis outlined in the Medical Surveillance Program chapter, the Respiratory Protection Program chapter, and the PPE Program chapter.
Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, PL 107-188.
40 CFR 300—National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan.
29 CFR 1960—Basic Program Elements for Federal Employee Occupational Safety and Health Program and Related Matters.
29 CFR 1910.1200/1926.59—Hazard Communication (HAZCOM).
29 CFR 1910.120—Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER).
HAZWOPER Standard Interpretation, “Application of HAZWOPER (1910.120) to Terrorist and Weapons of Mass Destruction Incident Responses,” November 24, 2003.
This chapter is intended for use by emergency responders who have received, at a minimum, the 40-hour Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) HAZWOPER training and annual refresher training, prescribed in 29 CFR 1910.120. This chapter supplements, but does not replace, this comprehensive training, and is based on the premise that the user has a thorough working knowledge of HAZMAT incident response. By itself, this chapter is not intended to prepare responders to work in areas contaminated with chemical or biological agents. This information must be integrated into existing emergency responder training and HASPs. This chapter also refers the user to the procedures described in other chapters of the manual.