Oil or chemical spills usually stir up images of rusty, leaking oil-tankers flagged by countries with misogynic regimes and exotic names. Still, smaller amounts of oils or chemicals—accidentally spilled on land—can contaminate lakes, rivers, and wetlands. This blog entry discusses the essential elements of an emergency spill response plan for oils and chemicals. Q&As include:
1. How can spilled oil and chemicals pollute?
2. What affects the degree of environmental damage caused by an oil or chemical spill?
3. How do ambient conditions affect an oil or chemical spill?
4. How does a pollutant’s density affect an oil or chemical spill?
5. How does a pollutant’s viscosity affect an oil or chemical spill?
6. What is an emergency spill response plan?
7. What should an emergency spill response plan include?
8. Who should be in charge of your emergency spill response plan?
9. How extensive does an emergency spill plan need to be?
10. Where can you find help developing an emergency response plan?
How can spilled oil and chemicals pollute?
Spilled oils or chemicals that find their way into the nearby aquatic environment—either directly or indirectly—will harm organisms that live on, alongside, or under that water’s surface. So doing, such pollutants can also wreak havoc upon the local food chain, which includes the stuff we humans eat.
What affects the degree of environmental damage caused by an oil or chemical spill?
There are four variables to consider when assessing the environmental damage attributable to an oil or chemical spill. Among them are ambient conditions along with the pollutant’s density, viscosity, and specific gravity.
How do ambient conditions affect an oil or chemical spill?
Ambient conditions include parameters such as the temperature and windspeed at the site of the spill. For example, warmer temperatures reduce a liquid’s surface tension, so the pollutants are more likely to spread in warmer waters than in colder ones. (See Q.4)
How does a pollutant’s density affect an oil or chemical spill?
An oil or chemical spill is more easily contained if the pollutant doesn’t mix with the water but instead remains atop it. The propensity for anything to stay atop water is a function of two things:
- The water’s surface tension, which is a measure of the attraction among the surface molecules of a liquid. The higher the attraction, the greater the tension.
- The specific gravity of the pollutant, which is a measure of the density of a substance compared to that of water.
If the pollutant is more dense than water, it will float. However, if it’s less dense, it will sink and thereby complicate your cleanup methods in a big way.
(N.B. Divine intervention notwithstanding, surface tension and specific gravity are what give certain things or insects the curious ability to float or walk on water. I.e., they have a higher density than water.)
How does a pollutant’s viscosity affect an oil or chemical spill?
Viscosity is a measure of a liquid’s resistance to flow. So, the more viscous a pollutant, the more likely it will sit still and remain local, which makes it easier to clean up.
What is an emergency spill response plan?
Emergency spill response plans differ across companies according to their respective operations and the types and quantities of chemicals they use. That said—the onset of a spill isn’t the time to begin a discussion about what you should or shouldn’t do in the event of one. Instead, a spill should instigate a well?defined and rehearsed emergency spill response plan, with all employees knowing what triggers its implementation.
What should an emergency spill response plan include?
Generally, your emergency spill response plan should have five parts:
- Rescue. Evacuate the spill area, aid affected individuals, and seek emergency medical assistance.
- Confine. Confine the spill area as best you can. Isolate contaminated persons. Don’t allow them to leave and contaminate others. Cover drains to prevent spills from entering municipal sewers.
- Report. Immediately report the spill to the appropriate emergency response authority, including location, injuries, as well as the type and quantity of the spilled pollutant.
- Secure. Ensure nobody enters the spill area until emergency personnel deem it’s safe. If the area has multiple entrances, locate staff at each to prevent entry.
- Clean. Cleanup must be conducted by personnel who have appropriate training, protective equipment, and cleaning materials.
Who should be in charge of your emergency spill response plan
An oil or chemical spill doesn’t care about your organizational chart. Thus, who should be in charge during a spill emergency might not be the person who’s running things during a normal day at the plant.
It’s important to develop an Incident Command System, wherein once the spill emergency is declared, authority and responsibilities are clear, unequivocal, and without regard to the usual departmental borders.
Your plan should map out exactly what must be done during the first hours, days, and weeks of a spill, with responsibilities delegated to specific personnel at each juncture to ensure no important detail is inadvertently neglected that might later become a legal liability.
How extensive does an emergency spill plan need to be?
Extensive enough to get the job done. But don’t confuse “extensive” with “complicated.” Each step of your emergency spill response plan should be stated in simple language and well-rehearsed. Consider:
During an emergency, adrenaline kicks in while “executive functioning” checks out. That means personnel won’t be in the right state of mind to read and evaluate numerous pages of instructional do’s & don’ts, but they can effectively execute simple, well-rehearsed assignments.
Ensure all your personnel are aware of your emergency spill response plan and that each knows his or her role within it. Provide regular training to educate new employees and keep current ones qualified. And run drills—some planned and some a surprise—to improve your emergency spill response plan and assess employee readiness to implement it quickly.
Printed copies of your emergency spill response plan should be kept offsite as well as onsite in places that are intuitive and easily accessible to employees. Web copies are best kept in a secure cloud-based platform and accessible from virtually anywhere on any device.
Where can you find help developing an emergency response plan?
A suitable emergency spill response plan for contending with possible accidents and disaster scenarios is your first defense against the financial, legal, and political damage caused by any hazmat spill. The first step is to identify your operation’s greatest vulnerabilities.
While it might not be possible to foretell how a spill will impact your business exactly, you can nonetheless develop an emergency spill response plan that will lessen the degree of damage to your operations, your reputation, and—ultimately—your finances.
And thanks for reading our blog!