What is spill response?

Oil barriers being used to contain an oil spill.

Spill response “is the term used to describe the activity that occurs after the occurrence of some type of spill of toxic or hazardous materials. The type of response will vary, based on the nature of the chemicals or other materials involved, the degree of negative impact the materials may have on people, animals and the environment in the immediate area, and the availability of resources to deal with the spill. Typically, companies as well as municipalities and government agencies will be involved in any type of emergency spill response that involves materials that are considered to be highly threatening, while municipalities and private cleaning companies can deal with issues such as sewage leakage.

Water polluted by an oil spill.

With virtually any type of spill response, two specific goals are included. The first step is usually to contain the spill, preventing the materials from spreading the contamination as much as possible. To this end, the area around the spill is normally quarantined in some way, only those involved in the cleanup effort are allowed to enter that space. Once the area is quarantined, equipment is brought in to prevent the spread of the spill, using any means necessary. This may include erecting some sort of barrier, even when efforts are made to seal any breaches that caused the spill.

Responders to a hazardous materials spill are equipped with protective equipment.

Once the spill is contained, the next step in the process is to start the cleanup process. Depending on the nature of the spill, this phase of the spill response may involve capturing the materials in some type of containment unit and transporting the spill to another area for release or treatment. At other times, the spill may be coated or covered with materials that are capable of absorbing the spilled materials quickly before there is any risk of contamination. Once the hazardous liquid is fully absorbed, removal materials are transported from the area and further cleaning to remove any traces is initiated. When successful, the spill has little or no effect on the surrounding area and does not cause any illness or injury to humans or wildlife in the immediate area.

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Many governments have detailed spill response plans and also require companies dealing with hazardous chemicals, waste products and other hazardous materials to develop spill response plans that can be acted upon immediately if needed. Water treatment plans, chemical plants, and even transportation companies that transport oil and chemicals from one location to another are likely to operate with a government-approved spill response plan and routinely update their spill kits to allow the most effective response in the event that a spill should occur.

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