Poison control centers are an integral part of most local HAZMAT (hazardous materials) response protocols, such as a chemical leak from an overturned tanker truck (Burgess et al., 1997; Mrvos et al., 1988). In this capacity, poison control centers work in close collaboration with local public health agencies and other agencies with responsibilities in this area, such as fire and police departments. Centers may be accessed in these situations by the public, responders at the incident scene, health care providers caring for exposed individuals, or public health agencies. The role of the poison control center includes providing information to individuals with exposures or potential exposures, assisting in triaging injured patients and notifying the receiving health care facility, providing information regarding the toxicology of the chemicals involved in the incident and the management of exposed patients, and gathering data regarding exposures (e.g., locations, types of injuries) that may be useful for managing the incident or for surveillance and follow-up. Poison control centers serve a similar role in acute or chronic occupational exposures, providing initial information regarding the toxicology of the exposure, assistance with initial triage and management, and coordination with responsible public health agencies (Blanc and Olson, 1986). Centers also have been accessed following natural disasters such as earthquakes to provide information on air and water quality (Nathan et al., 1992).
Poison control centers can play an important role in preparedness and response to acts of bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, or other public health emergencies. The efforts involved in the rapidly evolving, present-day building of capacity in the areas of bioterrorism and chemical terrorism preparedness and response is likely to strengthen the ability of centers to respond to natural disasters and other threats to public health. In 2001, 3,395 exposure calls regarding agents classified in TESS as “weapons of mass destruction” (WMD) were received and acted on by poison control centers. Examples include reports of anthrax, suspicious powder, chemical weapons, and other suspicious substances.
State plans for public health and hospital emergency preparedness are beginning to acknowledge roles for poison control centers. These state programs, funded by cooperative agreement grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), help the public health system and hos-