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Emergency Response

Spill Cleanup: Assessing Your Needs

Quick Tips #147

Advanced planning and preparation are crucial to successfully managing leaks, drips, sprays or spills. A spill contingency plan is a “game plan” that outlines what is needed to ensure a fast, aggressive and well-coordinated response to leaks, drips, sprays or spills. A spill contingency plan identifies the right tools and supplies that must be readily available in case of an emergency and also to control daily leaks and spills around your plant. Having the right spill control products, personal protective equipment (PPE) and decontamination/cleanup equipment to manage the type and volume of a potential spill is a must. The following questionnaire was created to both assess spill control needs and help develop a spill contingency plan.

Does your plant have a need for spill control products in any of the following areas?
  Yes No
Areas in which non-aggressive liquids (oils, coolants, solvents, water, etc.) are used.



Areas in which petroleum-based liquids (gasoline, diesel fuel, crude oil, etc.) are used.



Areas in which aggressive liquids (such as acids and bases) are used.




Are these spill control products needed to:
  Yes No
Control the spread of leaks, spills, drips and sprays?



Control leaks, drips and spray around machines?



Protect walkways and personnel in high-traffic areas?



Quickly absorb standing spills?



Absorb liquids in high-traffic areas?



Absorb liquids below machines, conveyors, valves, etc.?



Spill Products and Sorbents

Spill-maintenance products are used for everyday industrial situations involving cleanups or leaks. Typical maintenance leaks and spills involve oils, greases, lubricants, petroleum-based solvents, gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene, water, water-based cleaning solutions, antifreeze or other non-aggressive fluids.

Universal spill control products are items needed for spills involving aggressive liquids such as acids, bases and solvents. Examples of spill control products include berms, booms, dikes, kits, loose sorbents and neutralizers.

Sorbents can absorb and/or contain virtually any liquid found in today's work environment. There are three categories of sorbents: universal, petroleum and maintenance.

Universal sorbents can absorb almost any liquid. They will absorb aggressive liquids, such as acids and bases, as well as non-aggressive liquids and solvents, cleaners, water-based fluids, gasoline and alcohols. Most universal sorbents are made from either surfactant-treated polypropylene or expanded silicates.

Petroleum sorbents absorb oil and/or petroleum-based liquids. These sorbents will not absorb water or water-based liquids and are for use on land or water. Petroleum sorbents are made of polypropylene or treated cellulose.

Maintenance sorbents absorb non-aggressive liquids commonly found in manufacturing and maintenance operations to help maintain a clean and safe work environment. These sorbents are typically made of recycled materials, such as cotton, wool, cellulose or corn cobs. They can also be polypropylene or a combination of the materials listed above.

Sorbent Types

Sorbent pads or rolls may be used to catch leaks, drips and spray as they occur. They are also ideal for use in high-traffic aisles and next to machines. Pads may also be used under machines, conveyors and valves. Rolls offer the versatility of using the exact amount of sorbent needed—cut for use in small areas or use full size.

Sorbent booms or socks may be used around machines to keep the areas clean, safe and dry from leaks, drips and spray. Booms are also used to stop the spread of liquids and are the first line of defense for spill containment. Pads, rolls or pillows can be used to recover the spilled liquids once the booms are in place.

Sorbent pillows with drip pans may be used for nuisance leaks and drips from spigots and pipes. Sorbent pillows may be used for absorbing larger amounts of spilled liquids.

Loose sorbents are formulated to maximize absorption and minimize dust. They may be used to absorb liquids in heavy traffic areas. They may be sprinkled over a spill or broadcast over a large area. Loose sorbents are also used in packaging applications.

Commonly Asked Questions

Q: What source of information can be consulted for the specific PPE to be used to clean up chemicals in the event of a spill?

A: The primary source of information for proper PPE for spill response is the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the spilled chemical. Additional chemical resistance information is available from chemical resistance clothing, glove and footwear manufacturers.

Q: Are there specific training requirements for personnel who respond to chemical spills?

A: Yes. These requirements to be covered are found in 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1910.120 Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standard. HAZWOPER applies to five distinct groups of employers and their employees. This includes any employees who are exposed or potentially exposed to hazardous substances and wastes. Emergency response operations to releases of hazardous substances regardless of the location of the hazard are governed by the HAZWOPER standard.

Q: Are there specific regulations governing the disposal of sorbents saturated with hazardous materials?

A: The handling, storage and disposal of sorbents, when saturated with hazardous materials, are governed by local, state and federal environmental laws. Contact your local authority having jurisdiction over the issue for specific handling information.

Q: What is the difference between a sock, a dike and a boom?

A: Socks are more moldable than dikes or booms. The skin is constructed of a lightweight knit material. Socks are mainly used in maintenance applications for containing and absorbing liquids. Dikes do not mold or form around equipment as well as socks, but are more durable. Dikes are used for containing and absorbing small and large spills in open areas. Booms consist of a particulate-type absorbent covered with a porous fabric. Available in various diameters and lengths, booms are used for containing and absorbing large spills.


29 Code of Federal Regulations 1910.120, Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response

The information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This article is not a substitute for review of current applicable government regulations, industry standards, or other standards specific to your business and/or activities and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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