Spill Cleanup in Adverse Weather Conditions

 

Each season brings different challenges when it comes to emergency spill containment and cleanup.  During an emergency cleanup, the weather plays a major role in how HazMat personnel conduct operations.

Heat is the most common challenge in Texas and poses significant safety risks for everyone but especially for emergency responders working in direct sunlight on hot concrete surfaces.  Precautions such as drinking plenty of water and taking frequent breaks must be taken in order to prevent heat stroke and other serious injuries.  Class II combustible liquids, such as jet fuel, that won’t produce volatile vapors at room temperature will do so when spilled outdoors during the hot days of summer and pose respiratory and ignitibility concerns.  It is not uncommon for concrete surfaces to reach 120° to 130° Fahrenheit on hot summer days.

Snow and ice in the winter can create road hazards that not only can cause chemical spills from a highway accident but also hinder the response and cleanup.  Diesel and motor oil by themselves can cause emergency responders to lose their footing and fall, but when combined with ice, creates a situation that needs to be approached with extreme caution.  While snow may act to help immobilize a spilled liquid, continuous snowfall may cover up impacted areas and make establishing the scope of the cleanup difficult.

Another factor that affects emergency response operations all year round is rain.  Even light rainfall can wash a spilled material down storm drains and contaminate creeks where it can harm wildlife and cause greater cleanup cost.  At the very least it will spread the material and make affected areas difficult to identify and remediate.  Additional equipment such as vacuum trucks may be required and additional waste streams are generated other than just soil and absorbent.

 

The adverse weather conditions may act as a major hindrance during a fuel or hazardous material spill and the subsequent cleanup but trained and experienced emergency response contractors such as Protect Environmental can and always have safely and effectively overcome these obstacles.

Ignitable Wastes

Protect Environmental responds to spills and waste problems on a daily basis.  Part of our job is to recognize the inherent dangers associated with the materials that are or could be present and how to handle them safely.  The wastes classified as D001 are such wastes that require special handling and disposal.

The D001 Code

The D codes are part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s criteria for being considered a hazardous waste.  Wastes with this code have a characteristic that makes them potentially hazardous to human health and the environment.  There are several factors that determine whether or not a material is a D001 hazardous waste.

Liquid wastes that meet the ignitability characteristic (D001) have a flashpoint at or below 140° Fahrenheit (60° Celsius).  This means that if a liquid is at or below a temperature of 140° Fahrenheit, it is emitting vapors that form a flammable mixture with air that is easily ignited and can present a fire hazard.  Wastes with this characteristic are known as flammable and are very common.  Examples include gasoline, some paint thinners and adhesives, kerosene and oil based paints.

A liquid waste that has a flashpoint above 140° Fahrenheit, on the other hand, would be combustible and would not necessarily be considered a D001 hazardous waste.  Combustible products such as diesel fuel, motor oil, liquid asphalt and some industrial resins will burn when heated to a high enough temperature but are unlikely to reach that temperature during normal storage conditions.

Oxidizers also fall under the D001 hazardous waste code.  An oxidizer is a solid or liquid chemical that can readily give off oxygen during a fire; an element essential in the combustion process.  Oxidizers should always be stored separate from flammable and combustible materials due to their ability to intensify a fire.  Calcium or Sodium Hypochlorite (household bleaches) and hydrogen peroxide are common oxidizers used in homes and industry.

Another factor to consider for the D001 code would be if a solid waste under normal temperatures and pressure can ignite and cause a fire through spontaneous chemical changes, absorption of moisture or as a result of friction being applied to the material.  The Material Safety Data Sheet for the product in question can provide information on whether a waste would be classified as a D001 hazardous waste.

It’s always important to assess and classify a waste as accurately as possible when disposing of it.  Spills of D001 materials should be handled by trained professionals like the teams from Protect Environmental Services who can quickly and competently remove the material and mitigate the risk of a more serious situation.  Improper disposal and spill cleanup could not only result in hefty fines and criminal prosecution by government agencies, but could also endanger the health of employees and jeopardize the environment.

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