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Acute Toxic Substance Releases

About 15,000 acute accidental or illegal releases of toxic substances occur in the United States every year. A toxic substance is any chemical, biological or radiological substance that can cause harm upon exposure. Despite efforts to prevent toxic substance incidents, accidental releases occur routinely wherever substances are stored, used, or transported.

Toxic substance releases happen in a wide variety of settings and vary in their severity. Releases range from catastrophic chemical releases in industrial facilities to spills at your local dry cleaners or leaking pool chemicals in your backyard.

In 2005, a toxic substance was released at BP's Texas oil refinery causing an explosion that killed 15 people and injured 170. Also in 2005, chlorine gas was released in an incident with two trains in South Carolina. The incident required evacuation of 5,400 residents and resulted in nine deaths.

The potential for toxic substance exposure surrounds us at home, work, and school. Toxic substances pose a risk because they can cause a variety of acute, immediate health effects such as headaches, skin irritation, respiratory irritation, and burns. They can also be dangerous because some substances are flammable or explosive. Toxic substances can cause death or serious, long term health conditions.

In addition to health impacts, toxic substance releases can have environmental and economic impacts. Toxic substances released into the environment can kill plants and animals and limit an ecosystem's ability to survive. They can also have lasting economic impacts, such as temporarily or permanently closing industries and decreasing nearby property values. The clean-up and remediation process can be extremely costly and time consuming.

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