First Responders and Chemical Inventory Management Systems

Chemical Regulations

In April 2008, Cathy Behr was an ER nurse working at Mercy Regional Medical Center in Durango, Colorado. While she was on duty, a drilling accident occurred at a nearby oil fracking site. One worker showed up at the emergency room to receive treatment.

Upon triaging the patient, Behr noted that he was soaked in a “sweet-smelling fluid,” so she helped him to remove his cloths and boots so that he could take a shower. While helping, she inhaled some of the chemical fumes emitting from his cloths.

Shortly after helping this man, she began to come down with her own symptoms. According to the Denver Post, “…she lost her sense of smell [and] her vision blurred. Then came heart, liver and respiratory failures that nearly killed her.”

The Doctors treating her knew that to properly diagnose her, they would need to identity the chemicals. However, when they contacted the oil field employer, the company denied them the information. Fortunately, the Doctors were able to save her without the information and today she is back at work, saving lives.

The company claimed they could not reveal the details of the chemicals because it was a trade secret. Maybe this was true, but how are we to trust if the company denied the Doctors the relevant information because it didn’t actually know what chemicals were involved in the drilling accident? In some cases, safety data sheets (SDS) have a life-saving role to play during emergencies, and it’s a dilemma whether to value privacy in the face of human health needs.

Right to Know

State laws have been established that require companies to turn over chemical information to doctors, nurses, and first responders in order to help them with emergency situations. In addition, the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) states that facilities with chemicals stored on site must maintain SDS for each chemical. Copies of these data sheets must be submitted to state and local emergency planning teams as well as local fire departments, so they are aware of any chemicals in the facilities.

Although some may say that these laws are too stringent, others may say they are not strict enough. Is it sufficient for a first responder to only know about the types of chemicals that are stored at a location? Should they also know something about the quantity, real-time location, expiration date and shelf life of the chemicals?

The Best Practices Way to Track

Fortunately, a chemical inventory management system like CISPro™ can provide a simple and cost effective way to comply with safety laws and ensure the necessary information is available to emergency personnel. CISPro provides the following:

–Barcode technology enables real-time information of chemical inventories deployed in a laboratory or at a job site

–Integration with Material Safety Data Sheets simplifies the report creation process

–Details regarding the entire chemical lifecycle including expiration dates and shelf life


Accidents can happen anywhere. It is how we prepare for and respond to these accidents that can make a difference to the lives of researchers, the community and the environment. By implementing a chemical inventory management system like CISPro at your laboratory or job site, you can be prepared to answer first responder’s questions regarding the chemicals in your facility. For more information, please visit our website today.

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