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Homeland Security

Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES)

The Hazardous Substances Emergency Events Surveillance (HSEES) system was established by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) in 1991 to collect and analyze information about acute releases of hazardous substances that need to be cleaned up or neutralized according to federal, state, or local law, as well as threatened releases that result in a public health action such as an evacuation. The goal of HSEES is to reduce the morbidity (injury) and mortality (death) that result from hazardous substances events, which are experienced by first responders, employees, and the general public.

A HSEES event is any release or threatened release of at least one hazardous substance (excluding releases involving only petroleum products). A substance is considered hazardous if it might reasonably be expected to cause adverse health effects to humans. Events are included in the system, if the amount released, or threatened to be released, is required to be cleaned up according to federal, state, or local law. In addition, for threatened releases to be included in HSEES, they must result in an action to protect public health, such as evacuation.

Fifteen state health departments currently have cooperative agreements with ATSDR to participate in HSEES: Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wisconsin.

States use information from the HSEES system to develop strategies for reducing injuries and death. Appropriate prevention outreach activities can provide industry, responders, and the general public with knowledge to prevent chemical releases and to reduce injuries and death when such releases occur. Researchers and other government agencies request HSEES data for their prevention activities.

The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has identified 3,400 chemical facilities that each could affect more than 1,000 people if attacked. The HSEES system data and prevention outreach are critical for identifying, preventing, and mitigating the consequences of terrorist threats against our chemical infrastructure. HSEES received $1,207,298 (Cooperative Agreements) in FY2005 and $780,200 (Cooperative Agreements and NRC) in FY 2006 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Planning and Response (COTPER) to partially fund the HSEES program.

Information collected by the HSEES System has shown that:

  • Approximately 9,000 hazardous substances releases occur annually in the 15 states reporting.
  • Releases at facilities account for 70%-75%, and transportation-associated releases account for 25%-30%, of reported events.
  • Most releases occur on weekdays between 6 AM and 6 PM.
  • Releases tend to increase in spring and summer when more shipments occur of pesticides and fertilizers for agricultural activities.
  • Equipment failure and human error cause most releases at facilities.
  • Human error and equipment failure cause most releases during transport.
  • More than 90% of events involve the release or threatened release of only one hazardous substance.
  • Releases of hazardous substances most often injure employees, followed by the general public and-less frequently-first responders and school children.
  • Respiratory irritation and eye irritation are the most commonly reported symptom or injury. Approximately 50% of people who reported developing symptoms or injuries from a HSEES event are treated at a hospital and released.

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