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The environmental impact of CBRNe & HazMat training scenarios

Written by Steven Pike on 04 Jan 2018

hazmat-training-environmental-impact (2).jpgThe ability to be able to respond to any emergency CBRNe or HazMat situation, whether it be an accidental event or a deliberate act of aggression, is a vital necessity for military personnel and first response teams.

A civilian HazMat incident that occurs during the transport of hazardous materials by road, air, rail or ship is just one example of a scenario where specialist HazMat safety expertise will be required.

While hazardous materials regulations are in place to avoid and mitigate the impact of accidental spillage, any incident that involves a hazardous substance has the potential to cause environmental harm and will require a fast and emphatic response from trained emergency crews.

Likewise too, military teams need to be trained and equipped to handle any CBRNe incident such as the release, deliberate or otherwise, of a hazardous material or chemical warfare agent (CWA).

The US military for example uses a wide variety of materials to aid its national defense mission - from petroleum products and solvents to chemicals and explosives  - and all of which can pose a hazard if improperly handled.

It is essential that military personnel, both uniformed and civilian, are trained in the safe handling, storage, transport and disposal of hazardous materials and that they are instructed on the potential dangers that these hazardous substances can present both to individuals and the environment.

Practical, hands-on CBRNe and HazMat training experiences can play a pivotal role in ensuring that participants are armed with the knowledge, confidence and situational awareness to react with speed and accuracy to any incident.

But in creating realistic training scenarios there are crucial environmental implications that instructors will need to consider.

In this blog post we explore the three main types of CBRNe and HazMat safety training methods currently available, and the environmental considerations that each option necessitates.

Live-Agent Training (LAT)

LAT utilizes real CWAs and is widely considered to be the pinnacle of CBRNe and HazMat training. However the highly specialised nature of the training means that LAT is restricted to specialist personnel and can only be undertaken once a trainee has achieved an advanced level of competence. While it provides an invaluable opportunity to experience emergencies in the field, it is also highly intensive, in terms of cost, time and the requirement to adhere to environmental regulations.

Safety when dealing with any live chemical agent is paramount which means that LAT is subject to stringent rules.

The CWAs used in training exercises are of the highest grade - usually in the 90-95% purity range - so all training must be overseen with close collaboration between the military, environmental agencies and government departments.

LAT can only be undertaken in specially designated LAT centers, most commonly within the confines of military or government establishments.  If an LAT center is located close to a residential area then trainees will only be able to participate in indoor training. Complex filter systems are also required to ensure that chemicals are not accidentally released into the outside atmosphere.  

Any training that is allowed to take place outdoors must be carefully controlled and needs to take into consideration the time of the day the exercise is conducted, the weather conditions and the type and quantity of agent used.

Importantly too, at the conclusion of a training scenario, all operational equipment needs to be either decontaminated before being released - or in some cases destroyed altogether.

Simulant Agent Training (SAT)

Simulant agent  training is in many respects a short step down from LAT, as it involves the use of chemical substances that mimic the properties and behaviour of real CWAs. But while simulant agent training offers a high degree of realism it does also have its shortcomings.

One of the biggest challenges faced by instructors is the necessity for environmental safety. Simulants can be difficult to dispense and control in open air scenarios for example and large-area dissemination is generally not encouraged.

Even when dispersal is permitted, environmental factors such as wind, air temperature and saturation within the training location can significantly impede the learning experience.

Many chemical simulants are not easily biodegradable, so the repeated use of simulants in any one specific area can lead to a build up of toxicity over time, with the potential to become a significant hazard both to the environment and to human health.  

Simulation Training

Simulation training incorporates the use of intelligent, computer-based simulation tools that accurately replicate how real devices react when exposed to a range of chemical agents. Simulator training also incorporates the use of realistic replica detectors which means it serves as an invaluable training ground in preparing students for the unique challenges of LAT. The key difference though is that no chemical or live agent is required.

Unlike LAT which has stringent regulatory controls, simulator training can be undertaken anywhere, including public buildings and civilian locations. Larger training areas can also be quickly set up without any requirement for adherence to environmental regulations.

Because simulator detectors have been designed to respond to safe electronic sources, they are especially useful in the carrying out of radiation safety training exercises.

Simulator radiation detectors for example, provide radiological incident instructors with the tools to safely teach search, reconnaissance, survey and location skills, as well as providing a hands-on understanding of isodoserate mapping, safe demarcation and shielding.

Crucially though, because no live agents are used, there are no environmental or health and safety issues to consider.


As we’ve explored in this blog post, a key requirement of any CBRNe or HazMat related training is the provision of realistic training exercises that ensure the military and first responders know how to use their equipment when they need it.

Having the opportunity to handle life-like detectors and to interpret readings and measurements in as realistic a setting as possible is invaluable for learning - while at the same time ensuring minimal, or preferably zero, environmental impact.

Chemical warfare agent training using simulators

Topics: CBRN Training, Chemical Hazard Training

Steven Pike

Written by Steven Pike