Fire & Emergency New Zealand

What to do if you're affected by hazardous substances

E wātea ana tēnei whārangi ki te reo Māori
Tirohia ki te reo Māori

Every year, dozens of New Zealanders are affected by exposure to hazardous substances. It's important you know what to do if someone is exposed to a hazardous substance, so you can act quickly and minimise harm.

There are three ways you may be affected by hazardous substances:  

  • Inhalation: Hazardous substances often emit vapours, dusts, mists, gases or fumes that are toxic when inhaled.
  • Skin absorption: Hazardous substances can be absorbed through your skin, where they can enter your blood stream.
  • Ingestion: Hazardous substances are particularly dangerous when swallowed or ingested.

Hazardous substances can also cause indirect harm, for example by fuelling fires or explosions. 

In all situations where people have become affected by hazardous substances, seek medical advice immediately by dialling 111. 

Here are some tips for treating people who have been affected by hazardous substances: 


Anyone who has been exposed to breathing a hazardous substance should be encouraged to take deep breaths of fresh air.

Skin absorption 

The effects of many hazardous substances can be reduced by dilution with copious amounts of water. Soap and detergents should not be used as these can further damage the skin.


If someone has swallowed a hazardous substance, it's important to know what the substance is before any treatment is started. This is because some substances can react and cause further damage with the treatment. 

Contact the National Poisons Centre for advice on 0800 Poison (0800 764 766)