We hesitate when someone asks “How many mats and socks will I need to absorb a 5,000-gallon spill?” It’s not that we can’t do the math. We do know exactly how many mats and socks it would take. We also know how many pallets it will take to get that order out the door, and how much space you’re going to need to store all of those absorbents. We can also give you a pretty close guesstimate on the number of drums of waste that will be generated if you ever need to use your entire stash to absorb a spill.
It’s just that when it comes to spill response, absorbents may not be the only things that you need in your arsenal.
Yes, spill kits and absorbents are an awesome choice for small spills. They’re convenient, they have the products you need to get the job done quickly, and it’s fairly easy to train everyone to use them. But if you’ve got the potential for spills of more than 200 gallons, you might want to step back and look at what else you can use to complement your overall spill response program.
It’s true that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation all have multiple regulations that require you to be prepared for spills or “releases” depending on which particular regulation you’re following. But, it’s up to you to choose how you’ll prepare and what tools, supplies, training, etc. you’re going to need. There isn’t a requirement to absorb the entire volume of your worst-case scenario spill.
As you consider different options, which can range anywhere from a case of paper towels and a box of sawdust to spill kits, to explosion-proof vacuums and a contracted hazmat response team, look for ways to prevent spills from becoming a crisis in the first place.
One of the ways to do that is to view secondary containment as a tool in your spill response belt. Secondary containment is any basin, tray, berm, wall, dike or other device that keeps a spill from spreading beyond the barrier that has been established. If you’ve ever wrapped a handful of napkins around the bottom of a leaking waffle cone — that’s secondary containment. (By the way: the cone itself would be the “primary container.”) And if you can manage that mint chocolate chip dribble — it’s not much harder to hold back 5,000 gallons when you have the right kind of secondary containment.
First, take a look at all of the areas where large volumes of liquids are stored at your facility. They might be in tanks, drums, dip basins or even hidden inside large machines or equipment. They could also be indoors or outdoors.
Next, consider the most likely spills that could occur from each of them. Is it a spill that occurs during a bulk transfer? A dribble from the hose on a drum pump? Loss of a hydraulic reservoir? Chances are, spill kits and absorbents are a good fit for these types of spills.
Now, look at what will happen if the worst-case scenario happens. This is where secondary containment usually kicks in as a more viable spill response option. If the primary container fails, secondary containment is what keeps the spill within the pallet, berm or barrier. Yes, there’s still going to be a mess to clean up — but that mess will be contained to a defined area. It’s not entering storm drains, causing pollution or extending the length of downtime for the folks in your production or warehouse areas.
When spills happen, the first thing that needs to be done is to ensure safety. That means evacuating people (if necessary) and protecting anyone who will be responding to the spill. The next step is to contain the spill. If secondary containment is already in use and is properly sized for the job — this step takes care of itself and no one has to spend time chasing the spill.
Contained spills give responders the luxury of having a moment to decide the best way to tackle cleanup. Secondary containment also provides the options of absorbing, vacuuming, pumping, neutralizing or doing whatever else might need to be done to restore the situation to pre-spill conditions.
Any spill can be riddled with complexities — that’s why pre-planning is so important. Having a variety of options available and making sure that anyone responding to a spill is properly trained to use each option can mean the difference between an inconvenience and a really, really bad day.
You tell us: Do you know when to contain and when to absorb? Let us know in the comments section below!
Jack Oliversays:01/13/2015 at 11:29 am
Hi! I’ve read several blogs by Karen and wanted to say how much I’ve enjoyed the humor in her writing style. It makes reading much more fun and enjoyable.
Jensays:01/19/2015 at 9:39 am
Thanks for letting us know, Jack! We think Karen does a great job too!
Eric Jonessays:02/01/2017 at 3:56 pm
Cost and reclaiming material should be a point of discussion as well. Disposal of contaminated absorbent rags, desiccants, or other solid materials that cannot be reclaimed can be substantial. Potential uses for the spilled material in other application or reclaiming spilled material can be an option. However, desiccants seem to cut down on evaporation of volatile chemicals and reduce respiratory exposure.
Karensays:02/06/2017 at 2:03 pm
Absolutely! This is actually a discussion that we frequently have with customers, especially when they are just getting started with spill response planning. It is easy to think that if you have the potential for a 1,000-gallon spill and having absorbents capable of absorbing 1,000 gallons would be an easy solution.
We’re all about absorbents. But, we realize that the cost of those absorbents can be hard to swallow. And, once they’re at your site, you need to find a good place to store them – and that many absorbents can take up quite a bit of space! Then, if they are ever used, it can be quite expensive to send everything for fuel blending, incineration or disposal. (The same can be said for disposing of bulk desiccants, especially since most are silica-based, which makes them a poor choice for fuel blending and incineration and could prohibit landfilling if they allow free liquids to leach.)
Because of this, we often recommend that customers consider containment options in conjunction with absorbents. Containing spills with dikes and berms keeps them from spreading and provides you with more options than simply absorbing the entire volume. For example, a contained spill can be vacuumed or pumped into containers. At this point, some people may be able to reuse those fluids. In other cases, the bulk fluids can be recycled more easily than if the fluids are absorbed into socks and mats.
When you see coverage of large oil spill responses at sea, you often see a variety of techniques used. Absorbent mats and booms are often used on shorelines, and containment booms are used on water to contain the oil spill so that large pumping vessels can collect and reclaim the oil. The same principles work on land and with smaller spills.
With any spill response products, a key goal is to get the spill under control and cleaned up as quickly as possible. There are many ways to do this, and there is no “best” way that is guaranteed to work for any facility. Fortunately, there are lots of great spill response products, no matter how you choose to clean up spills!
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