Navigating the ERG: What Information Does the Green Section Give First Responders?

A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Emergency Response Guidebook and the Role of its Green Section

Key Takeaways:

  • The Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG) is an essential tool for first responders during hazardous materials incidents.
  • The ERG is divided into color-coded sections that each contain specific information related to handling hazardous materials.
  • The green section of the ERG provides critical information on inhalation hazards and water reactivity for small and large spills.
  • Effective utilization of the ERG, including the green section, can mitigate the damage caused by hazardous materials and improve safety for both responders and the public.

Understanding the Emergency Response Guidebook (ERG)

The Emergency Response Guidebook, commonly referred to as the ERG, is an invaluable resource for first responders. It serves as a quick-reference manual for dealing with incidents involving hazardous materials. The ERG’s systematic layout and color-coded design simplify the process of managing these incidents, ensuring that first responders have instant access to vital information. From developing emergency plans to determining evacuation procedures, the ERG acts as a trusted guide through every stage of incident management.

Before we delve into the specifics of the green section, it’s important to understand the overall structure and function of the ERG. The guidebook is organized into five color-coded sections: white, yellow, blue, orange, and green. Each section offers distinct information essential to managing hazardous materials incidents.

  • White: This section includes general information on placards, rail cars, pipelines, and trailer identification. It also outlines the classification of all hazardous materials.
  • Yellow: This section assists in identifying the specific chemicals involved in an incident. Each hazardous material is identified by a four-digit United Nations (UN) number.
  • Blue: Here, chemicals are listed in alphabetical order. It is mainly used to identify a chemical if it can’t be easily located in the yellow section.
  • Orange: Upon gathering information from the previous sections, first responders can refer to this orange section to understand how to handle the specific chemical. It provides information about personal protective equipment (PPE), evacuation procedures, first aid, and measures for spill and fire control.
  • Green: This section, which we will explore in more detail, provides information regarding inhalation hazards and water reactivity for both small and large spills.

The Importance of the Green Section in the ERG

In hazardous materials incidents, the green section of the ERG plays a pivotal role. It is a resource that first responders can refer to when dealing with potentially dangerous materials that might pose inhalation hazards or react dangerously with water. In the chaotic environment of a hazardous materials incident, this section can offer clarity and guidance, helping to mitigate risk and streamline the response process.

The green section is particularly relevant in situations where there is a risk of a substance becoming airborne. When materials are spilled or otherwise released, they can quickly become a hazard if they vaporize and are inhaled. This is especially critical for substances that can cause damage to the respiratory system or other health effects when inhaled. The green section provides key information on such inhalation hazards, enabling first responders to implement appropriate safety measures.

Similarly, some substances can react violently when they come into contact with water, potentially leading to explosions, the release of toxic gases, or other dangerous outcomes. Understanding the water reactivity of a substance is therefore crucial when determining how to safely respond to and contain a spill. The green section of the ERG provides this information, assisting responders in developing safe and effective strategies for handling spills.

Using the Green Section Effectively

First responders must be well-versed in utilizing the green section of the ERG to ensure safety and efficiency during hazardous materials incidents. The key to doing so effectively lies in understanding the specific type of information this section provides.

The green section is organized according to the four-digit UN numbers that identify each hazardous substance. These numbers correspond to those found in the yellow and blue sections, where the substances are listed numerically and alphabetically, respectively. Once the UN number of the substance has been identified, responders can locate it in the green section to determine the inhalation hazard and water reactivity.

The information in the green section is divided into two tables. The first table provides data on potential inhalation hazards, detailing the toxic gases that could be produced if the substance is spilled. It offers guidance on protective distances to maintain in the event of both small and large spills.

The second table in the green section focuses on water-reactive substances, detailing how they react when exposed to water. This information allows responders to decide on the appropriate response tactics, such as whether to use water for cooling or fire suppression, or to avoid water entirely due to the risk of a violent reaction.


The Emergency Response Guidebook, and specifically its green section, is a powerful tool in the hands of well-trained first responders. It equips them with essential information, enabling them to manage hazardous materials incidents efficiently and safely. Understanding how to use the ERG, and the information contained within each of its color-coded sections, is vital to ensure the safety of responders, the public, and the environment. When used effectively, the green section of the ERG can mitigate the risks associated with inhalation hazards and water-reactive substances, contributing significantly to the successful management of hazardous materials incidents.

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