Emergency spill response is an important part of a company’s safety and health program. Well-prepared companies keep a plan of action and the appropriate cleanup supplies on hand in case. A simplified action plan for spill response might look like this:
Evacuate personnel from the immediate area of the spill.
Identify the spilled material(s).
Notify the spill-response team.
Barricade the spill area and notify others in surrounding areas.
Extinguish or disconnect all sources of ignition and contact the fire department if the chemical is flammable.
Don the appropriate personal protective equipment.
Contain the spill.
Clean up the spill.
Dispose of the spill in accordance with local, state and federal regulations.
The Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Standard (HazWOPER) contains requirements for cleanup operations; corrective actions involving cleanup operations; voluntary cleanup operations; operations conducted at treatment, storage and disposal facilities; and emergency-response operations for hazardous wastes. The HazWOPER Standard, 29 CFR 1910.120, requires the following with regard to spill control:
(j)(1)(vii) U.S. Department of Transportation specified salvage drums or containers and suitable quantities of proper absorbent must be kept available and used in areas where spill, leaks or ruptures might occur.
(j)(1)(viii) Where major spills might occur, a spill-containment program, which is part of the employer’s safety and health program required in paragraph (b) of this section, must be implemented to contain and isolate the entire volume of the hazardous substance being transferred.
When developing a spill-containment program, you should have certain tools on hand and ready to use in case an emergency spill occurs. Spill-containment tools can include drain protectors, drain plugs, drum plugs, neutralizers and sorbents.
Booms are cylindrical and vary in length and width. Booms are used to control and contain spills. Some booms contain spills on water, and can be connected together and deployed onto the water as a large spill barrier.
Socks or mini booms are cylindrical and vary in length and width. This form of sorbent is typically used in facility spill response or maintenance applications. Socks can be used to contain spills or can be placed around machinery or other equipment to contain leaks.
Pillows are rectangular and filled with sorbent media. They’re used to clean up medium-sized spills. Place pillows under drip pans to eliminate overflow problems, or use as a precaution for a possible spill when transferring liquids.
Pads and sorbent rolls are flat, sorbent sheets available in unperforated rolls, perforated rolls or manufactured to a specific size, up to 300 feet long. Pads can be used to line shelves, catch leaks under machinery and clean up spills. Rolls can be cut to specific lengths for larger applications.
Loose or particulate sorbents are composed of sorbent media that is not contained in any type of pillow or mesh. Application of loose sorbents depends on the type of sorbent media used. Loose sorbents are typically used on small spills.
The three categories of sorbents are universal, petroleum and maintenance. These categories are made up of several sorbent materials, including synthetics such as polypropylene; inorganic materials, such as expanded silicates and clay; and organic materials, such as cellulose and wood fibers.
Universal sorbents are designed to absorb any liquid. They will absorb aggressive liquids such as acids and bases as well as non-aggressive liquids and solvents, such as cleaners, water-based fluids, gasoline and alcohols. Universal sorbents are made of polypropylene or expanded silicate materials.
Note: When cleaning up hydrofluoric acid, do not use an expanded silicate absorbent, because the expanded silicate material will react with the hydrofluoric acid. Instead, use a sorbent made of polypropylene.
Petroleum sorbents or “oil-only sorbents” are designed for absorption of oil and/or petroleum-based liquids. These sorbents are hydrophobic, which means they will not absorb water or water-based liquids. These can be deployed on water surfaces for emergency cleanup of spills, or used in maintenance applications for hydraulic and engine-oil cleanup. Petroleum sorbents are made of polypropylene or treated cellulose.
Maintenance sorbents absorb non-aggressive liquids commonly found in manufacturing/maintenance operations. These liquids include coolants, lubricants, oils and cutting fluids. Maintenance sorbents will pick up water-based as well as oil-based fluids. These sorbents are typically made of recycled materials, such as cotton, wool, cellulose or corncob. They can also be made of polypropylene, or a combination of the materials listed above.
Sorbent capacity can be listed by the amount of weight it will absorb in relation to itself, “Absorbs 12 times its weight,” or by its liquid capacity, “Absorbs 8 gal.” For example, if a boom weighs 1 lb. and absorbs 12 times its weight, it will absorb 12 pounds of fluid. However, since all liquids don’t weigh the same per gallon, the weight capacity of the sorbent actually varies from liquid to liquid. So perhaps a more accurate way to assess sorbent capacity is by how many gallons it will absorb or its liquid capacity. This amount will remain fairly static, regardless of the fluid weight. A boom that’s 4 ft. long and 3 in. dia. will typically absorb 1 to 1 gallons of liquid. A pad that measures 16″ x 20″ and is 3/16″ thick will absorb 28 to 32 fl. oz. Both of these examples are for polypropylene sorbents. Other materials may have different sorbent capacities.