Emergency Supplies and Gear
Chemical Agents: Facts About Personal Cleaning and Disposal of Contaminated Clothing
Some kinds of chemical accidents or attacks may cause you to come in contact with dangerous chemicals. Coming in contact with a dangerous chemical may make it necessary for you to remove and dispose of your clothing right away and then wash yourself. Removing your clothing and washing your body will reduce or remove the chemical so that it is no longer a hazard. This process is called decontamination.
People are decontaminated for two primary reasons:
Most chemical agents can penetrate clothing and are absorbed rapidly through the skin. Therefore, the most important and most effective decontamination for any chemical exposure is decontamination done within the first minute or two after exposure.
How to know if you need to wash yourself and dispose of your clothing
In most cases, emergency coordinators will let you know if a dangerous chemical has been released and will tell you what to do.
In general, exposure to a chemical in its liquid or solid form will require you to remove your clothing and then thoroughly wash your exposed skin. Exposure to a chemical in its vapor (gas) form generally requires you only to remove your clothing and the source of the toxic vapor.
If you think you have been exposed to a chemical release, but you have not heard from emergency coordinators, you can follow the washing and clothing disposal advice in the next section.
What to do
Act quickly and follow the instructions of local emergency coordinators. Every situation can be different, so local emergency coordinators might have special instructions for you to follow. The three most important things to do if you think you may have been exposed to a dangerous chemical are to (1) quickly remove your clothing, (2) wash yourself, and (3) dispose of your clothing. Here’s how:
After you have removed your clothing, washed yourself, and disposed of your clothing, you should dress in clothing that is not contaminated. Clothing that has been stored in drawers or closets is unlikely to be contaminated, so it would be a good choice for you to wear.
You should avoid coming in contact with other people who may have been exposed but who have not yet changed their clothes or washed. Move away from the area where the chemical was released when emergency coordinators tell you to do so.