Secondary Contamination of Medical Personnel, Equipment, and Facilities Resulting From Hazardous Materials Events, 2003–2006

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When not managed properly, a hazardous material event can quickly extend beyond the boundaries of the initial release, creating the potential for secondary contamination of medical personnel, equipment, and facilities. Secondary contamination generally occurs when primary victims are not decontaminated or are inadequately decontaminated before receiving medical attention. This article examines the secondary contamination events reported to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) and offers suggestions for preventing such events.


Data from the ATSDR Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance system were used to conduct a retrospective analysis of hazardous material events occurring in 17 states during 2003 through 2006 involving secondary contamination of medical personnel, equipment, and facilities.


Fifteen (0.05%) Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance events were identified in which secondary contamination occurred. At least 17 medical personnel were injured as a result of secondary contamination while they were treating contaminated victims. Of the medical personnel injured, 12 were emergency medical technicians and 5 were hospital personnel. Respiratory irritation was the most common injury sustained.


Adequate preplanning and drills, proper decontamination procedures, good field-to-hospital communication, appropriate use of personal protective equipment, and effective training can help prevent injuries of medical personnel and contamination of transport vehicles and medical facilities.

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