Emergency Response Guidebook

Introduction to the Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This document was copied verbatim from the 2004 Emergency Response Guidebook. There may be references to parts of the 2004 ERG or to formatting styles (e.g. colors) that we did not implement in this online version that would be found within an actual printed copy of this book.]

The Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances suggests distances useful to protect people from vapors resulting from spills involving dangerous goods which are considered toxic by inhalation (TIH), including certain chemical warfare agents, or which produce toxic gases upon contact with water. The Table provides first responders with initial guidance until technically qualified emergency response personnel are available. Distances show areas likely to be affected during the first 30 minutes after materials are spilled and could increase with time.

The Initial Isolation Zone defines an area SURROUNDING the incident in which persons may be exposed to dangerous (upwind) and life threatening (downwind) concentrations of material. The Protective Action Zone defines an area DOWNWIND from the incident in which persons may become incapacitated and unable to take protective action and/or incur serious or irreversible health effects. The Table provides specific guidance for small and large spills occurring day or night.

Adjusting distances for a specific incident involves many interdependent variables and should be made only by personnel technically qualified to make such adjustments. For this reason, no precise guidance can be provided in this document to aid in adjusting the table distances; however, general guidance follows.

Factors That May Change the Protective Action Distances

The guide for a material (orange-bordered pages) clearly indicates under the section EVACUATION - Fire, the evacuation distance required to protect against fragmentation hazard of a large container. If the material becomes involved in a FIRE, the toxic hazard may become less important than the fire or explosion hazard.

If more than one tank car, cargo tank, portable tank, or large cylinder involved in the incident is leaking, LARGE SPILL distances may need to be increased.

For a material with a protective action distance of 11.0+ km (7.0+ miles), the actual distance can be larger in certain atmospheric conditions. If the dangerous goods vapor plume is channeled in a valley or between many tall buildings, distances may be larger than shown in the Table due to less mixing of the plume with the atmosphere. Daytime spills in regions with known strong inversions or snow cover, or occurring near sunset, accompanied by a steady wind, may require an increase in protective action distance. When these conditions are present, airborne contaminants mix and disperse more slowly and may travel much farther downwind. In addition, protective action distances may be larger for liquid spills when either the material or outdoor temperature exceeds 30°C (86°F).

Materials which react with water to produce large amounts of toxic gases are included in the Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances. Note that some water-reactive materials (WRM) which are also TIH (e.g., Bromine trifluoride (1746), Thionyl chloride (1836), etc.) produce additional TIH materials when spilled in water. For these materials, two entries are provided in the Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances (i.e., for spills on land and for spills in water). If it is not clear whether the spill is on land or in water, or in cases where the spill occurs both on land and in water, choose the larger Protective Action Distance. Following the Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances is a table that lists the materials which, when spilled in water, produce toxic gases. The toxic gases that these water-reactive materials (WRM) produce are also included in the Table.

When a water-reactive TIH producing material is spilled into a river or stream, the source of the toxic gas may move with the current and stretch from the spill point downstream for a substantial distance.

Certain chemical warfare agents have been added to the Table of Initial Isolation and Protective Action Distances. The distances shown were calculated using worst case scenarios for these agents when used as a weapon.

Initial isolation and protective action distances in this guidebook are derived from historical data on transportation incidents and the use of statistical models. For worst case scenarios involving the instantaneous release of the entire contents of a package (e.g., as a result of terrorism, sabotage or catastrophic accident) the distances may increase. The increase can be estimated by multiplying the distances by a factor of two (2).


WARNING: These pages are for general reference and educational purposes only and MUST NOT be relied upon as a sole source to determine regulatory compliance or where matters of life and health are concerned. This site and the author do not warrant or guarantee the accuracy or the sufficiency of the information provided and do not assume any responsibility for its use.

To ensure regulatory compliance when transporting hazardous materials or dangerous goods, one must receive proper training and certification from a qualified instructor and refer to the current year's Code of Federal Regulations Title 49 (49CFR) or your country's shipping regulations. In matters regarding workplace safety, refer to current OSHA regulations (29CFR) and NIOSH guidelines or your own country's health and safety regulations. No one should ever enter into a hazardous environment without proper training from qualified instructors.

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