Hazardous materials releases can cause substantial morbidity and mortality, but very few studies have systematically investigated them. We analyzed responses by Massachusetts' six district hazardous materials (HAZMAT) teams from the time of their inception through February 1994. Spills, leaks, and other escapes of materials caused or contributed to 67 of 85 (79%) incidents. Transportation-related accidents accounted for 13 of 83 (16%), whereas the remainder of the releases occurred at fixed facilities. The chemicals most frequently involved were various hydrocarbons and corrosive materials. Most incidents (60 of 85 [70%]) had no reported injuries. Civilians were injured in 18 of 85 (21%) incidents; regular fire fighter and/or police were injured in eight of 85 (9%) incidents; and HAZMAT team members in one of 85 incidents (1%). Systematic study is needed to identify preventable causes of HAZMAT responses as well as ideas for better control of secondary health effects.
From The Cambridge Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts (Dr Kales); the Occupational Health Program, Department of Environmental Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston, Massachusetts (Dr Kales, Dr Christiani); the Newton Fire Department and Metrofire Haz-Mat Team, Newton, Massachusetts (Mr Castro); and the Pulmonary/Critical Care Unit, Massachusetts General Hospital/Harvard Medical School, and the Center for Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Massachusetts Respiratory Hospital (Dr Christiani).
Address correspondence to: Stephen N. Kales, MD, MPH, Occupational Medicine, Department of Medicine, The Cambridge Hospital, 1493 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139.