We're all exposed to chemicals -- whether we're cleaning our ovens, using bug spray or "filling up" at the gas station. Most of the time, chemicals help make our lives easier. But they can be dangerous enemies as well -- as the staff in the emergency department's Hazmat Referral Center at Hopkins Bayview knows too well.
The Medical Center's emergency department hazmat team is one of a few in Maryland especially trained to handle hazardous material exposures -- providing services that range from triage to decontamination to treatment. Most of the people seen in the Hazmat Referral Center are workers from local industry, where the potential for accidents is high due to the sheer volume and concentration of chemicals.
For example, when a worker is splashed with a corrosive substance, it is vital to remove every trace of the chemical immediately through a process of decontamination. As part of the Hazmat Center, the emergency department has a special decontamination room equipped with showers and protective clothing. The showers are uniquely designed to catch water run-off in a tank, which is then pumped out by a company that specializes in disposing of contaminated water. "Decontamination should only be performed by health care professionals trained to work with hazardous materials," says Robert Dice, RN, MS, trauma coordinator. "As a Hazmat Referral Center, we take every possible precaution. That means paying attention to fine details, performing frequent drills and being knowledgeable about all hazardous materials."
Dice explains that, in some cases, medications are given to people who are exposed to reverse the effects of the poisons. At other times, a patient may need supportive care, such as oxygen and IV fluids, until the symptoms subside. The center also uses POISONDEX, a software program that provides medical information and treatment advice for an extensive list of products and chemicals.
According to Dice, Johns Hopkins Bayview is ideal for a Hazmat Referral Center because of its designation as an adult level II trauma center and also as the regional burn center. The Medical Center also is involved in the Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program, a collaborative effort with area hospitals, to treat people in the event of contamination with chemical and biological weapons, such as mustard gas.
Says Hugh McCusker, Johns Hopkins Bayview's safety technician, "Though most of the accidents we see are industrial, there are still a few of the 'guy next door' mishaps involving pesticides, gasoline, furniture refinishing products and household cleaners. Just use common sense and follow these tips to keep yourself from becoming a hazmat event."
Hazmat Safety Tips
- Store chemicals and household products out of the reach of children's hands.
- Before using any product, read the directions on the label.
- Do not mix products (chemicals). Some combinations may ignite, explode or produce harmful vapors.
- If you have a question about a product, many containers have a toll free number you can call.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using any chemical product.
- Store substances in their original containers. Makeshift container labeling and unlabeled containers are potential accidents waiting to happen.