Does your facility store potentially hazardous materials outside? Read on to learn how to safely store and handle chemicals outdoors.
When is Outdoor Storage of Chemicals Necessary?
When you need to keep large volumes of raw materials onsite to make products, lubricate machinery or fuel engines, buying materials in bulk often makes more sense than purchasing equal amounts of the products in drums or even totes. Because of their size, aboveground storage tanks (ASTs) and underground storage tanks (USTs) are typically located outside. In some cases, drums, totes and other types of containers may also end up being stored outdoors.
Having procedures to properly store and handle all chemicals that are stored outdoors — regardless of the size of the container — will help prevent product loss and environmental pollution.
Use the following tips to maintain tanks and containers, keep storage areas secure and prevent pollution.
Tank and Container Good Housekeeping
Maintaining bulk tanks and containers in good condition is a primary way to ensure that whatever is stored in them doesn’t become contaminated by rainwater or dirt. It also helps to deter pests. Steel tanks and containers should be free of rust. Plastic tanks and containers should not be brittle, flaky or bulging. Seals, gaskets, openings and valves should also be checked periodically for signs of wear or degradation.
While it may seem obvious, several EPA regulations specifically call out the need for containers to be compatible with the materials being stored to prevent the contents from reacting with the container, causing it to fail. In general, choose steel or other metals for flammable liquids to facilitate bonding and grounding; and plastic for corrosives and oxidizers. If the material is hazardous, check the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) for incompatibility information (see Section 7 of the SDS) to ensure that the container won’t react with whatever is being stored. When in doubt, verify compatibility with the chemical supplier.
Keeping the lids, bungs, openings and valves of tanks and containers closed when materials are not being added to or removed prevents evaporation, discourages people from putting trash into the opening and minimizes the chance of contamination or unintended chemical mixing.
Offloading and Transfers
Barring natural or man-made disasters, tanks and containers that are well-maintained and secured usually don’t fail without some kind of warning. Leaks, spills and chemical releases more commonly happen during fluid transfers.
Both the facility and the supplier delivering chemicals need to have procedures for bulk fluid and other chemical deliveries. These procedures should cover general practices as well as how to contain, control and clean up leaks and spills. In the case of bulk fluid deliveries, procedures should also cover how to engage emergency shut-offs.
Stocking drain covers and spill response supplies near tanks and outdoor container storage areas and training employees to use them can prevent spills from entering storm drains or unpaved areas.
Safeguarding Storage Areas
Hazardous materials that are stored outside are often subject to EPA’s Stormwater and/or SPCC Regulations. These regulations were created to protect the nation’s waters from pollution caused by the improper storage, handling and management of hazardous materials.
Secondary containment systems are a required element in several environmental compliance plans. They are also considered a highly recognized Best Management Practice when proactive planning is required, but the method of compliance is not specified.
In outdoor areas, secondary containment can take many forms such as concrete walls, earthen dikes, pre-fabricated sumps and even flexible pools. When using secondary containment systems to prevent pollution, plans need to include procedures for draining uncontaminated rainwater and melted snow from the system in a timely manner if the area is not covered.
Outdoor chemical storage areas also need to have adequate lighting and security. The levels and types needed vary depending upon location and the nature of the chemicals being stored.
Ideally, implementing plans, procedures and inspections will prevent leaks, spills and chemical releases. However, having plans to quickly react to these incidents when they do happen can prevent a minor inconvenience from becoming a major emergency.
The EPA requires facilities to be prepared for spills, but because every facility has unique needs and circumstances, the choice of how to prepare and respond is left to the facility. Local Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs) and first responders are excellent resources to help with planning and choosing spill response supplies.
Whether storing and handling chemicals outside is a matter of practicality or necessity, preparing these areas for the materials being stored and having plans in place to quickly respond to leaks and spills will help to prevent spill emergencies and prevent pollution. Reviewing current outdoor chemical storage plans and procedures, ensuring that inspections are frequent enough to identify potential problems and stocking spill response supplies are all steps in accomplishing this goal.