Spills Happen

Evening news reports paint a dramatic picture of spill response: millions of gallons of water contaminated, teams of responders in Level A hazmat suits, officials from all levels of government gathered near large response vehicles, miles of caution tape and of course, soundbites from at least two or three affected citizens describing how horrible this has been. Big spills still make engaging news stories. But the simple truth is that most spills aren't big and aren't newsworthy.

In fact, most spills are small. And, they are sometimes a daily occurrence in many facilities. They're inconvenient, but most aren't emergencies. Recognizing when and where spills can happen and incorporating incidental spill response into Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) can facilitate safe, efficient cleanups.

Emergency or Incidental?

According to the Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) registry; an organization that collects, organizes and shares chemical information; more than 108 million chemical substances have been registered. Some are hazardous, others aren't. When hazardous chemicals are used in workplaces, a lot of time and effort is spent understanding those hazards so that the right precautions can be taken to prevent harm to workers, the environment and the surrounding community.

But, not all chemicals present the same types of hazards. Some may be flammable while others are corrosive, reactive or toxic. Because of this, it can sometimes be difficult to establish one set of spill response rules that applies universally to every chemical in the facility.

For example, it doesn't take a very large spill of mercury or a chlorinated solvent to necessitate evacuation from an area. But, several thousand gallons of lubricating oil that remain completely contained in a secondary containment area may still allow production to run pretty much uninterrupted while the area is pumped out and cleaned up.

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