Containing Spilled Liquids

April 12, 2007
Since a spreading spill sends employees scattering in all directions, prepare your spill response plans in advance.

Watching a spill spread kicks most people into high gear as everyone scrambles for supplies to get the mess cleaned up. Preparing spill response plans in advance, stocking the proper spill containment tools in a convenient place and training workers to use them can help everyone be more productive during a response.

Creating a physical barrier between a spilled liquids and sensitive areas, such as unprotected storm drains, electrical devices and offices is one of the first steps in tackling a spill, and there are many ways to create those barriers without the investment and inherent problems created by permanent dikes and berms.

For small spills, absorbent socks are useful because they will both stop the spill from spreading as well as help absorb the fluids that have been spilled. They are more convenient and efficient than loose absorbents such as clay, which have to be swept and shoveled during cleanup operations.

Absorbent socks are available in many different sizes and have different absorbent media to meet chemical needs. In many cases, absorbent socks already are stocked and used within the facility in a variety of applications.

Sometimes, it's not practical or desirable to absorb an entire spill. For example, if a bulk tank leaks and several hundred gallons spill, a sock that absorbs 2 gallons may not be the greatest source of help. Often, responders are able to vacuum and recover the spilled liquids for reuse instead of absorbing it, making absorbents a less-desirable option.

Non-absorbent polyurethane dikes and drain covers are popular, low-maintenance resources for these scenarios. They form a seal with smooth surfaces, allowing the user to divert or contain liquids until they can be properly handled.

Incorporating socks and non-absorbent dikes into spill response plans and stocking them in appropriate locations for fast use during a response will help responders contain and control spills quicker and more effectively.

Spill Kits

Many companies create or purchase spill kits, which offer a variety of spill response products and can be pulled out quickly in the event of an emergency. When creating or choosing a spill kit, keep these five important points in mind:

What liquids will you be absorbing? Choosing a spill kit with absorbents designed to absorb both water and oil-based liquids when responding to an oil spill on water can be a costly mistake. Likewise, having a spill kit available with limited compatibility when responding to a highly corrosive liquid may result in an undesirable chemical reaction. By knowing what liquids are used in your facility, you can select the correct variety of kit to meet your needs.

What is the volume of your worst-case-scenario spill? Determine the largest amount of liquid that could be spilled from a single container or holding tank. If your liquids are stored in drums, this likely would be the contents of an entire drum, normally either 30 or 55 gallons. If you store liquid in totes, consider the volume of your largest tote - usually anywhere from 200 to 500 gallons. Remember, it may not be practical to absorb the entire contents of a spill, especially if it is a large one.

What type of container works best for your location? Some companies choose to locate spill kits in every area prone to spills, such as loading docks, drum storage areas, dispensing stations and waste-fluid collection stations. Others choose to have one or two kits that can be transported to the area where a liquid is spilled.

When examing your options, it is important to know the physical limitations of your spill response team, as well as the terrain they must cover to get to a spill. A spill kit on casters, weighing 80 pounds, will be great for a spill inside a warehouse, but may not be the best option for people to carry a long distance over rough soil. On the other hand, if you are locating spill kits in each spill-prone area, you may want to consider wall-mounted kits for smaller spills or a spill response center for larger spills. When selecting kits for tight areas - like the cab of a truck - a stowaway or bagged kit is probably the best choice.

Do you need any personal protective equipment (PPE)? The variety of liquids that have the potential to create a spill is vast. Spill responders also come in all shapes and sizes. Because of these two factors, many prepackaged spill kits do not include PPE. Ensure you have appropriate PPE for responders located near spill kits.

Do you already have a cabinet or container for your kit? There is no regulation that tells you what a spill kit must include, or what the container must look like. If you already have a storage cabinet in an area where you'd like to put a spill kit, or if you have old spill kit containers that just need to be restocked, simply choose a refill based on your absorbency needs and stock it in the container or cabinet already at your facility.

Karen Hamel is a technical specialist for New Pig Corp. in Tipton, Pa. She is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and has more than 9 years' experience helping customers find solutions to their environmental, health and safety issues. She is HAZWOPER technician-level-certified and serves on her county's LEPC. She can be reached at (800)HOT-HOGS or by e-mail at [email protected].

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