Acid and substance attacks: How to react in an emergency

The use of chemicals and substances is on the rise in London. In response to a freedom of information request by CNN in 2017, data from the London Metropolitan Police shows a sharp rise in substance attacks, with 465 recorded in 2017, up from 395 the previous year and 255 in 2015.

So, if you think someone has been exposed to hazardous material or substance, what do you do?


If you are like me, your first instinct will be to jump after a tablet falling from the balcony of a two-storey building. Well, this is not good, It’s important to remember to think and manifest caution at all times. It may also be necessary to maintain a safe distance in-order to avoid exposure yourself… remember, exposure is not always obvious – space is your friend.

The signs to look for include:

  1. The presence of hazardous or unusual material;
  2. A change in environment such as unexplained vapour, odd smells or tastes;
  3. Look for inexplicable signs;
  • Vomiting
  • Itching and skin irritation
  • Itching in airways
  • Itching eyes
  • Nausea
  • Twitching
  • Extreme sweating
  • Disorientation
  • Breathing difficulties

How you can help

Firstly, call 999…

Look for signs of contamination in the environment…┬áIf there are no visible signs of contamination in the atmosphere, help the person/s with caution. Use a mask if you carry one in your briefcase or handbag.

Remove outer clothing …Ask the individual or group if they can remove their clothing from a safe distance. If they can, ask them to remove their outer clothing. If they can’t, approach with caution and help the individual remove outer clothing…

Do not pull clothing over the person or persons head. Cut through clothing if you have to.

Do not attempt to remove clothing that’s stuck to the skin/flesh.

Ask the person/persons to keep their eyes open.

Remove themselves …Ask person/s to remove themselves from the area or substance. Sometimes, this is not pleasant to observe, have some patience, and guide the individual out of the infected zone…

In the absence of visible contamination help the individual out of the contaminated zone.

If it’s an Acid attack, rinse out the contaminated area with water until the arrival of emergency services (usually under 30 minutes).

Isolate substance …Isolate the substance by removing all players from the zone…

Do not give the victim food or water as you don’t know what might be going on internally…

Exit contaminated environment …Move to a safe zone and await the arrival of emergency services…

Tell Emergency services all you witnessed.

Important Telephone numbers

Emergency (work on any mobile phone)
Non-emergency for Police
National Non-Emergency Medical

Published by John Adewole

Senior User Researcher

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