Chemtrec Upgrades Hazmat Emergency Information Services

Jan. 1, 2002
FOR MORE than 30 years, Chemtrec (Chemical Transportation Emergency Center) has been providing the crucial information needed to assist emergency response

FOR MORE than 30 years, Chemtrec (Chemical Transportation Emergency Center) has been providing the crucial information needed to assist emergency response personnel in handling hazardous materials incidents in the safest possible manner. It is a mission that Chemtrec personnel perform extremely well.

On average, Chemtrec ( handles 22,000 hazmat incidents annually. The organization receives 150 calls a day, all of them handled by a skilled team of emergency specialists with access to a database of 2.8 million material safety data sheets (MSDSs).

Chemtrec capabilities were significantly enhanced over the past year. The Chemtrec call center in Arlington, Virginia, was completely renovated to accommodate additional on-duty emergency services specialists and technology upgrades to support the call center operations. Seven specialists now work in the call center, with three to four per shift.

“Our call volume has picked up, and we needed room for more work stations,” says Timothy P Butters, Chemtrec managing director. “We're getting calls on hazmat issues from all over the world.”

Upgrades included improvements in the material safety data sheet (MSDS) storage and retrieval system to allow better management of the growing database of technical documents. In addition, the MSDS department installed some of the newest technology to provide faster indexing and scanning capabilities, including the ability to auto index PDF, text, and word processing documents.

“The upgrades we've made allow for broader, faster searches with a higher retrieval rate,” says Christine Chroniger, Chemtrec MSDS manager. “This storage system provides more up time for the emergency center during routine maintenance and repair.”

Chemtrec was established in 1971 by the chemical industry as a 24-hour, seven-days-a-week public service to provide fire fighters, law enforcement, and other emergency responders with information and assistance in dealing with hazmat incidents. Chemtrec was established by the American Chemistry Council, which was called the Chemical Manufacturers Association at the time.

A broad range of services is provided through Chemtrec. This includes specialized medical assistance from chemical manufacturers, shippers, poison control centers, or medical experts under contract to Chemtrec.

Chemical companies must pay an annual subscription fee to register with the Chemtrec system. This enables them to print the Chemtrec 800 number on bills of lading and other shipping documents. Trucking companies are allowed to post the toll-free telephone number on trucks and trailers at no cost.

The 800 number (800-424-9300) has caused some confusion. Chemtrec officials stress that the number is just for emergencies. It is not a customer-service phone number. When the Chemtrec phone number is listed on paperwork (such as MSDSs, invoices, and labels), it's important to state clearly that this is an emergency number. Placement of a customer-service phone number near the company name can help solve the problem.

The hazmat emergency clearinghouse also manages the chemical industry's mutual aid emergency response network. Chemnet was established to provide chemical shippers with timely emergency response and technical assistance at the scene of chemical transportation incidents. The network is comprised of emergency response teams from participating chemical companies and teams provided by for-hire contractors.

When calls for help come in, Chemtrec's specialists provide immediate assistance and can link emergency responders in the field with shipper or product manufacturers. The specialists provide technical information to responders, along with important medical support information.

Chemtrec has been a success over the past 30 years, not just in the United States but also around the world. It has served as a model for organizations in other regions, including Europe and Asia.

“We're encouraging a network of Chemtrec-like centers around the globe,” says Randy Speight, ACC distribution & Chemtrec team leader. “Chemtrec's role will be to provide leadership, advice, and the benefit of 30 years of experience to those countries and companies that choose to set up similar systems.”