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Protection from Chemical Spills

What's being done to protect Oregonians from chemical spills? 

Oregon’s Public Health Division operates the Hazardous Substances Incident Surveillance (HSIS) system to identify and describe any potential health effects associated with releases of hazardous substances.
Oregon’s HSIS works with other government agencies to monitor these releases, investigates factors leading to spills and injuries, and reports the results to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) for inclusion in the National Toxic Substance Incidents Program (NTSIP) national database. From 1992-2009, HSIS participated in ATSDR's Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system.
 In addition to gathering general background information, the investigation attempts to determine what specific substances may have been released to the environment, who might have been exposed to these substances, what immediate injuries or health problems may have resulted from exposure, and what efforts were made to evacuate people or to shelter them in homes, workplaces, or businesses in the area.

How does this help to protect the public?
These monitoring efforts can provide useful information about the types of substances released during these events, and the most common types of injuries associated with them. The information collected can help in finding the most effective ways to handle these events — for emergency responders, health care personnel, planners, and others who play a role in protecting the public. Ultimately, the information can help to reduce deaths and injuries for responders, workers, and the general public.
What kinds of leaks and spills does HSIS monitor?
The Oregon HSIS monitoring program focuses on spills and leaks that qualify as hazardous substance incidents. These incidents may include any uncontrolled or illegal releases — or threatened releases — of potentially hazardous substances. The exceptions are leaks or spills involving petroleum products, which are handled by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.
Oregon HSIS monitors spills and leaks whenever the amount of material released makes it necessary to take protective or remedial action — that is, when it becomes necessary to clean up, remove or neutralize the spilled or leaked chemicals, or to evacuate people from the area. 
Hazardous substance incidents may involve a variety of different chemical substances. More than 65,000 chemicals are currently in commercial use, and about 600 new chemicals are added each year. However, for many of these chemicals, the potential health effects are not known. A number of state and federal agencies are currently conducting research on many of these chemicals, to determine their possible effects. 

What kinds of problems are most likely to result from a leak or spill?
Leaks and spills are most often relatively brief events, and any human exposure to hazardous materials is also usually brief.  If they do have any impact on health, these events are most likely to result in acute health effects — that is, they are most likely to cause immediate illness or injury. The short-term health problems associated with chemical spills or leaks can vary in severity — ranging from headaches to potentially fatal illnesses and injuries.
How does Oregon HSIS learn about leaks and spills?

The HSIS system obtains information about a hazardous substance emergency from a variety of sources. Incident reports are sent to HSIS by the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS), the Office of State Fire Marshal, and the National Response Center, after which HSIS staff follow-up to find out more about the incident by examining the records of other state agencies, and by talking with personnel involved in environmental protection activities, law enforcement, local fire officials, health care personnel, and the persons directly involved in the incident. Although reports to HSIS are voluntary, OERS is the designated agency in Oregon to receive required reports of spills.
TO REPORT A SPILL, call the Oregon Emergency Response System (OERS), toll-free, at 1-800-452-0311.
How does Oregon use the data from the monitoring program?
Oregon is one of 7 states currently participating in the ATSDR NTSIP national database. Oregon HSIS uses this information to monitor state trends regarding specific hazardous materials and their health effects, allowing the development of effective strategies to prevent spills. Oregon HSIS staff also compare our data with that from other states to see if the differences can give clues to causes of spills and releases.
HSIS tracks illnesses and deaths among workers, emergency responders and the general public in connection with spills. The data are also used to identify factors that increase health risks and to develop effective strategies to prevent injuries, illness, and deaths.
The HSIS database has the potential to help various agencies in drafting legislation, developing rules and regulations, creating guidelines for responding to hazardous substance emergencies, and developing better procedures for protecting workers.  These efforts should help to minimize the health impact of any hazardous substances that may be released to the environment during future spill incidents.
If you have questions or comments about the role of Oregon HSIS in monitoring chemical or other hazardous substance leaks and spills, please contact the HSIS program at 971-673-1014.