March 2012

Welcome to the March issue of the NCEC newsletter.

This month we held our 5th Hazmat Conference in Birmingham (more details are below). Once again, we received much positive feedback and some new ideas for future events. Feedback is extremely valuable to us and always well received. On this note, at the Hazmat Conference, we launched a full consultation exercise on the Emergency Action Code (EAC) system. You now have the chance to be involved and share your thoughts on the future of EACs. 

Our Emergency Responder team is always keen to be involved in emergency exercises, whether remotely or at the scene. Therefore, thanks are due to West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service for inviting us to participate in what was a very realistic scenario (as I am sure you will agree from the photos) and worthwhile practice for everyone involved.

We have our usual round-up of some of the more interesting emergency calls we have received. In one, a vacuum cleaner exploded after being used to clear up metal dust. This underlines the need to understand the hazard(s) of the products you are dealing with and to carry out risk assessments. Not, as in this case, to just 'suck it and see'.

We have a number of training courses coming up including chemical hazard awareness and COSHH assessment, so do take a look at the dates.

If, after reading this newsletter, you would like to know more about the work of the NCEC, please visit our website, or contact us via email or phone

Happy reading!

Bill Atkinson
Knowledge Leader


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Emergency Action Code consultation - have your say

The Emergency Action Code (EAC) was devised in the 1970s to act as a quick reference tool for emergency responders so they know what to do when they encounter incidents involving bulk loads of dangerous goods. The display of EACs is compulsory for bulk loads of dangerous goods for UK-registered vehicles on domestic journeys. The system was designed to be simple and not rely on the responder having prior knowledge of the chemicals involved or, any specialist expertise. The information is then provided in the way of actions and recommendations, and does not require any further interpretation.

Because the information is basic, it is really only designed to be used in the initial phase of an incident. These initial actions and recommendations can be superseded as more information becomes available, but the EAC should provide a good starting point.

Since 2009, NCEC has regained the responsibility for updating the list every two years. This means that we devise new codes for new UN numbers and review the EACs for existing UN numbers where there has been a change to the classification. EACs are assigned using algorithms, which contain a series of questions concerning the material (e.g. solubility and density). If the substance presents a public safety hazard and/or the possibility of a violent reaction, then the answers to these questions will determine the best choice of fire-fighting media and protective equipment, and whether to dilute or contain a spillage. There are also algorithms for assigning Additional Personal Protection (APP) codes.

Since the EAC system was devised, much has changed in the way of training and operational practices but little has changed with EACs. EACs are also used by emergency responders in different ways. For example, some Fire Services in the UK use the codes as the basis of whole incident response whereas others use alternative information sources or use EACs in a limited way. There are also seeming a number of ‘inconsistencies’ in how the current EAC system is designed or used. For example:

  • Liquid-tight chemical protection suits not being used in practice by many emergency responders, meaning that gas-tight suits are deployed instead
  • The need for Additional Personal Protection (APP) codes
  • Deploying in gas-tight suits cannot really be considered an  ‘initial’ action
  • Environmental considerations mean that spillages usually need to be contained
  • The recommendation for use of alcohol resistant foam is not displayed on the vehicle EAC
  • The use of 'E' as Public Safety Hazard is not well understood.

EACs remain popular with fire services in particular. As a result, there were two failed bids (in 2000 and 2010) from the international association of fire-fighters (CTIF) to introduce a European-wide EAC system. However, in both cases, the bids were not accepted by the regulatory authorities. But, given that we will continue to have a UK-only EAC in the list of ADR signatory countries, then it is time to consider if the system is still appropriate and, if so, if it needs to be improved.

The consultation exercise, which was launched at the Hazmat 2012 event, will continue until the end of June 2012. Already it has elicited lots of views.

The aim of the consultation exercise is to gather views on the EAC and to form an interested group to debate and decide important issues, such as

  • Is an EAC still an appropriate emergency response tool?
  • If so, how should it be used?
  • Does it need revision?
  • How to resolve the 'inconsistencies'

If you would like to get involved you can register your views using the form that can be found on the consultation page.

Any formal changes to the EAC system will require the involvement of the Department for Transport and as such may be subject to a separate consultation on the changes.




Chemdata® 2011.2 was released at the end of February. As well as the usual data updates, this version includes a new, user-customisable section that will enable users to select the document sections that are the most important to them and the order in which they want to view them. A number of fire services have requested this type of functionality and we hope it will be of benefit to all our users.

To request a trial of our Chemdata software for PCs click here.

Our Pocket Chemdata app for Android tablets and smartphones has been getting a great response with many people downloading it. The app has been developed to provide timely and accurate chemical information at the scene of an emergency, cutting crucial response time. In an emergency, rapid access to relevant and easy-to-understand chemical information is critical for making the right decisions. Pocket Chemdata is the invaluable resource that can help you save lives and exercise damage control.

The app provides you with a free 14-day trial of the full app. After the trial period has expired, you can buy a Pocket Chemdata licence subscription directly from NCEC and obtain an authorisation key to unlock the app for continued use. Download your free 14-day trial today from Google Play now!

Android is a trademark of Google, Inc


New QSAR Services for REACH compliance

The Registration, Evaluation and Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals, is a piece of legislation centred on providing chemical and hazard information in a universal standardised format. This places specific obligations on manufacturers and importers, with the next set of key deadlines approaching at the end of 2012 (for updating safety datasheets to the new format) and middle of 2013 (for the next registration deadline).

The European Union's guidance on REACH emphasises the use of methods other than animal testing to generate data required for the REACH registration phase. Quantitative structure-activity relationship (QSAR) models are expected to play a significant role in this data generation. QSARs are intended to help fill in gaps in (eco)toxicity data, as well as physicochemical, biological and environmental fate of chemicals needed for assessing the hazards of chemicals. In a special message to small chemical companies the International QSAR Foundation put on its website that this option of using QSAR methods to classify chemicals without expensive animal data seems to be one of the best-kept secrets in Europe.

QSARs are theoretical models that can be used to predict the physiochemical, biological and environmental fate of chemicals. Chemicals are grouped together according to their structural or physicochemical similarity and are consequently considered to have similar environmental, eco-toxicological or toxicological properties. This similarity between chemicals is then used to predict information about unknown structures.

NCEC now offers a QSAR modelling service to support its customers with the REACH compliance process, including chemical registration and SDS authoring. We are able to use a variety of QSAR models including Toxtree, Caesar, as well as the OECD toolbox. These models have been specifically developed for REACH legislation, and the latter has been approved and validated by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

For more information please contact us or telephone +44(0)870 190 6621.

West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service Exercise - 'A Tanker Down'

At the end of February, two NCEC emergency responders, Neil Thomas and Ian Goodyer, attended an emergency exercise at the West Yorkshire Fire & Rescue training centre in Birkenshaw. This was a large-scale exercise that involved not only the emergency services, but, also a number of companies (a haulier and a vehicle manufacturer) working closely together during a response to a major transport incident.

The scenario was that a petroleum tanker had come into contact with a van (carrying 1,000 litres of an unknown chemical) causing the tanker to rollover and the van to crash. Both drivers had absconded so there was no information on the two loads. A full fire and rescue response was scrambled with a number of appliances, the Detection, Identification & Monitoring (DIM) and Hazmat units all involved.

Once the chemical (nitric acid) had been identified by fire officers in gas tight suits and a foam blanket applied to the tanker it was the turn of the companies to get involved.

Incident controllers and emergency response personnel from both companies met with the fire service to discuss a plan of action. It was decided to transfer the fuel from the stricken tanker before attempting to right it.

This was a painstaking process with all parties involved treating the scene as seriously as they would for a fully laden tanker on the highway.

The exercise was well attended by a large number of different agencies and companies, which emphasised the importance of it. All involved witnessed an excellent multi-agency response to what was a very realistic scenario.

Our emergency responders often attend events of this nature as part of their on-going training programmes, ensuring that they can provide the best advice possible when incidents occur for real. If any of our readers have an exercise planned and you would like us to attend or be involved please contact us.

Contact us or telephone +44(0)870 190 6621.


Hazmat 2012

Our 5th Annual Hazmat Conference, now established as one of the main avenues for Hazmat specialists to share experiences and knowledge, took place on 6 and 7 March at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, NEC Birmingham. Our thanks go to all the speakers, sponsors and the organising team who made this another successful event.

The two-day event covered a variety of topics, including several UK and overseas hazmat incident case studies, radiation awareness, CBRNE response, illicit drugs laboratories and the mysteries of toxicology were explained!

All the subjects covered were relevant to people involved in hazardous materials response. The setting provided a great opportunity to question and discuss content in the forum and one-to-one. Delegates were drawn from fire services, the Ministry of Defence (MOD), chemical industry, transport companies and bodies such as the Environment Agency, the Health Protection Agency and the Met Office. Bill Atkinson, Knowledge Leader at NCEC, chaired the event.

We have received a lot of feedback from delegates and we will be acting on their comments to make Hazmat 2013 even better!  We hope to confirm a venue for 2013 in the next couple of months and will be releasing early bird offers at that time. Please keep an eye on our website for updates.


Exploding vacuum cleaner

NCEC recently received a call from a HazMat Officer at a metal tooling factory where a vacuum cleaner used for collecting metal powders had exploded, causing second degree burns to the operative who was subsequently hospitalised. The caller wanted to know what had caused the explosion and how to deal with the vacuum cleaner.

Our Emergency Responder advised the HazMat Officer that metal powders, such as aluminium and titanium, can form explosive mixtures in air and can react with water to produce explosive hydrogen gas. Prior to the arrival of the emergency services, the casualty's colleague had poured water into the vacuum cleaner and the contents were continuing to react and produce a gas. Our Emergency Responder advised the caller that the gas was most likely to be hydrogen and that the area should be well ventilated to prevent an explosive atmosphere. The use of dry extinguishing agents and quenching quantities of water were discussed, but ventilation was thought to be the most appropriate course of action. 

NCEC's chemists understand the dangers of hazardous materials and are able to determine the products of reaction, whether that is with firefighting media or other chemicals. You can rely on our experience and expertise.

Exploding fridge freezer

NCEC recently received a call from a Fire Service Incident Commander who was trying to ascertain the cause of an exploding fridge-freezer at a domestic property.

After determining the details of the incident, including the type of appliance and refrigerant gas involved, our Emergency Responder suggested that either the system had over pressurised or a leak had been ignited. There were no scorch marks or combustion residues suggesting that the appliance had over pressurised, but the plastic food wrappers inside the fridge appeared shrunken and stiff, as if exposed to heat. The refrigerant gas was pentane and our Emergency Responder explained that it would burn cleanly and easily at low concentrations (flashpoint -49C, explosive limits 1.5 to 7.8% in air) suggesting that a leak ignited by the thermostat or other ignition source was the likely cause of the explosion.

Our Emergency Responders are available to discuss unusual incidents and can draw on their diverse range of expertise. Remote from the scene, they are able to research the problem and précis the results for you over the phone.

Leak at a COMAH-regulated site

Between 500 and 1,000 litres of molten phthalic anhydride was leaking at a COMAH site and the fumes were drifting off site. The HazMat Officer at the scene wanted advice about suitable isolation distances due to the proximity of residential and commercial properties.

Our Emergency Responder advised the caller that molten phthalic anhydride produces harmful and sensitising fumes, and recommended an initial isolation distance of 50 metres in all directions, and 300 metres downwind. Because the local weather conditions were cold and dry with not much wind, the Emergency Responder advised the caller that the fumes would stay close to the ground and would not dissipate readily. It was decided that people should be told to remain indoors with their windows and doors closed, rather than evacuate. The leaked material was covered in a foam blanket and a water curtain was set up downwind of the leak to reduce the fumes going off site. 

NCEC's Emergency Responders use a wide range of reference materials, including Chemdata, to provide comprehensive advice in the event of an incident. The UK emergency services rely on our expert advice to protect people, property and the environment.



FPS Expo 2012

18 to 19 April 2012

This is the oil industry's largest annual event and will take place at the Harrogate International Centre.

A wide variety of senior professionals from across the UK, Europe and as far afield as the USA will be attending. The event is designed to give attendees the chance to check out the latest industry innovations, network with colleagues and learn about new legislation and other industry issues at a range of workshops.

Visit us on Stand C73

Safety & Health Expo

15 to 17 May 2012

Safety& Health Expo 2012 is an annual event that brings together the safety and health industry.

The event will feature industry's leading manufacturers, distributors and suppliers who will be showcasing their latest innovations. It is aimed at senior professionals looking to source new suppliers, network with colleagues and hear leading industry speakers discuss the most pressing issues of the day.

Visit us on Stand B33

Chemspec Europe

13 to 14 June 2012

Barcelona will host the 27th Chemspec Europe, which will see over 400 exhibiting companies from around the globe and over 5,000 attendees are expected.

Still unrivalled as Europe's only dedicated fine and speciality chemicals event, Chemspec Europe is focused on providing its attendees access to, and networking opportunities with, blue chip and small and medium sized enterprise (SME) suppliers from around the globe.

Visit us on stand B13.

Chemspec Europe


First Aid for Chemical Exposure

24 April 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

Our First Aid for Chemical Exposures course combines first aid with chemical hazard awareness, and is aimed at those who work with chemicals, or work in an environment where chemicals are handled.

Cost: £265 +VAT

Chemical Hazard Awareness

10 May 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

A one day course to help you appreciate the hazards and risks associated with the chemicals you work with. It also includes topics such as: reading SDS, assessment of risks (COSHH) and safe handling.

Cost: £265 +VAT

Making COSHH Assessments

13 June 2012 -  Gemini Building, Harwell

A one-day course to help you appreciate the hazards and risks associated with the chemicals you work with. It also includes topics such as reading SDSs assessing risks (COSHH) and safe handling.

Cost: £215 +VAT

Chemical Spill Response

14 June 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

A one-day course that is ideal for those who are considering setting up, or already have, a spill response team in their workplace.

Cost: £265 +VAT

Hazmat 1st Response

28 June 2012 - Gemini Building, Harwell

A one-day course to prepare you and your organisation for dealing with a chemical incident. The course provides practical and up-to-date information on what is expected of you during a hazmat incident.

Cost: £235 + VAT

To book a place, please contact us or telephone +44 (0) 1235 75 3654.

[end of newsletter]


1. Legislation

- Emergency Action Code (EAC) consultation

2. In the News

- Chemdata®

3. NCEC in action

- New QSAR Services for REACH compliance

- Exercise 'Tanker Down'

4. Out and about

- Hazmat 2012

5. Interesting calls

- Exploding vacuum cleaner

- Exploding fridge freezer

- Leak at a COMAH site

6. Forthcoming

- Events

- Training