Chemical Spill Frequently Asked Questions

Dealing with a chemical spill is no easy matter.  The legal and environmental considerations can seem overwhelming for a company that suddenly finds itself dealing with them during a spill.  At Protect Environmental, we want to help our clients cope with chemical spills and understand what their responsibilities are so we’ve answered some of the most common questions regarding chemical spills.   Why do private HazMat contractors exist? It’s a common misconception that all chemical spills or other HazMat situations are handled by teams run by government agencies.  Most large cities and a few companies maintain their own HazMat teams but the expense is too great for a majority of companies and local jurisdictions.  Due to the cost of training responders and purchasing and maintaining specialized equipment, it makes sense for a private contractor to respond to spills on behalf of multiple parties rather than those parties having a team that may never be utilized.   What do you do when a chemical spill occurs? The first thing that should happen after a chemical spill is to evacuate the area of personnel who could be exposed.  Someone with knowledge of the product and its properties should lead or at least help coordinate the effort to keep employees clear of danger.  Employees not involved in containing the spill should stay uphill and upwind of where the spill occurred.  Only personnel with the right training and equipment should try to contain or slow the spread of the spilled chemical.   Who should be called when there is a spill? If a chemical spill occurs on or may spread to public property, if anyone has been injured or if the spill has the potential to cause destruction of property or harm to the public the first call should be to 911.  Once local police and fire departments have been notified, the next call should be to a team that can handle the cleanup, such as Protect Environmental Services.  When the spill is on private property and there is no immediate risk to life or property, you can call Protect Environmental right away.   Who is responsible when a chemical spill occurs? In most cases, the responsible party is the person or company that had possession of the chemical when it spilled.  A company that transports chemicals whether by truck, rail or boat may not own the cargo but they can be responsible when the chemicals are accidentally released during transport.  In the case of large events such as the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill where responsible party may be liable for billions of dollars for cleanup and restoration, the legal battles may end up placing blame on multiple parties.  When smaller spills occur on roadways or in warehouses; however, it’s usually easy to determine who is responsible.   What are a responsible party’s obligations? The exact requirements vary from state to state but in Texas a responsible party must ensure that the spill is cleaned up, the wastes generated are managed properly and that a final report is filed with the state if the spill exceeded the reportable quantity for the chemical.  Paying for the cost of cleanup and restoration is also a burden of the responsible party but most companies have insurance coverage that either reimburses them or pays for it directly.  Companies that don’t have the right coverage must pay out of pocket.  When a responsible party refuses to pay for a cleanup, they can face severe penalties and lawsuits brought by the state. Even if a responsible party is proactive and calls a contractor immediately to perform the cleanup, they may still be at risk if they choose a contractor who is under-qualified and doesn’t handle the cleanup and wastes in a legal manner.  The shortcuts and mistakes that they make ultimately fall upon the responsible party in the form of fines.