The aftermath of a hazardous spill in Oregon

On Behalf of | Oct 7, 2021 | Environmental And Natural Resources Law

Many operations in Oregon involve hazardous or solid waste in some capacity whether it is a byproduct of company practices or just a natural result of the production process. In either circumstance, it is critical that companies or property managers have an efficient process to remove the hazardous material in a safe manner.

However, mistakes happen.

When dealing with oil or hazardous materials, spills are a common possibility. Even the safest Oregon companies could deal with the aftermath of a spill, and it is important to know how to address these incidents responsibly to protect yourself and the community as a whole.

The beginning in a spill response

While cleanup is a necessary component to emergency response, one of the first steps is to report the spill to the Oregon Emergency Response System – which coordinates and manages state resources to respond to natural and technological emergencies between all levels of government and the private sector.

Spills to report must meet certain requirements, such as:

  • Any oil that spills into local waterways
  • Any spills of oil on land that exceed 42 gallons
  • Any accident that includes hazardous materials that are equal to, or greater than, the quantity listed in the code of Federal Regulations

During the initial report, you must disclose as much information as possible including the quantity spilled, the type of substance, the location of the spill and the current cleanup in progress. The more information that you can provide, the easier it will be in terms of detailing the request for the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

The role of Oregon’s DEQ

The Department of Environmental Quality plays a critical role in environmental cleanups, especially on the local level. While it is up to the company, or the involved party, to start the immediate cleanup, the DEQ ensures that the cleaning process is completed in a way that protects the surrounding community and the environment.

If the cleanup process is particularly strenuous or if it is a unique substance, then the department may oversee the cleaning process. The DEQ also acts as a guide for those dealing with hazardous regulations in Oregon.

For example, the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality leads the regulations and permits surrounding commercial hazardous waste management services. They also recommend permits for:

  • Facilities that store, treat or dispose of hazardous waste on-site.
  • Properties that store, treat or dispose of waste that cannot “clean close” – a process where the owners remove all waste from the unit and decontaminate or remove all equipment, structures, and surrounding soils, according to the Environmental Protection agency.
  • A facility with a small quantity generator that accumulates more than 13,200 pounds of waste or stores waste for more than 180 days.
  • A facility with a large quantity generator that stores waste for more than 90 days.

These permits play into the local regulations to prevent spills from contaminating the community and the overall health of the environment.

Approaching the immediate cleanup

During the reporting process, you must pick up the responsibility to immediately clean the site. It will be a collaborative effort between the department or parties who caused the spill and those who own the facility. There might be some nuance to how each facility approaches the cleanup, but there are some general tips that every cleanup should implement.

Control the area immediately. If you don’t know what the hazardous spill is yet, you should control the area quickly after detecting any unique odors until the site is deemed safe. During this time, you should also restrict the area to essential personnel only. You do not want anyone who cannot help with the emergency response to be exposed.

Contain the spill. Most people would argue this is the most important step, but all these steps are important and work together. However, you do need to contain the spill as soon as possible to prevent worse consequences. You may be able to use absorbent pads, chemical booms, or a drying agent. Pay special attention to any drains or ditches that allow the spill to travel outside the facility perimeters.

Clean up the substance as much as possible. You will have to collect the materials impacted and safely dispose of any contaminated materials based on Oregon’s regulations. You will need to package and label any waste and store it temporarily if the material is volatile.

Fill out any additional documentation. Detailed information on the spill helps expedite the process for reporters and the agencies handling these claims. It can also be vital in proving when disposal was in compliance with applicable regulations.

Different substances may require more detail and precision when it comes to addressing a spill, so make sure to work within the regulations and seek support from professionals whenever necessary.

Prevention is key

Most facilities understand the key to addressing spills is to prevent them. Prevention allows companies to operate under their normal practices and still protect employees and the community surrounding them.

There are five key steps to prevent hazardous spills:

  1. Implementing proper storage – volume and the substance’s properties will influence which containers are best and how facilities should pour these materials into their proper place during normal business practices.
  2. Using labels and providing the safety data sheet – containers must have labels on them that identify the contained material and any potential hazards. With each material, there should be an accessible safety data sheet that allows workers to know about the chemical, its properties, and any precautions for handling or transporting.
  3. Consistency in training – facility owners will need to focus on consistent training across all employees who come into contact or handle chemicals within its property. You will want to go over safety measures, bookkeeping, and chemical storage for all related materials. It is important to note that workers are human and most likely will make mistakes. But training helps prevent those.
  4. Focus on spill containment and preventative measures – some facilities use specific tools, such as spill containment pallets, to contain and capture spills. It could also be a part of a much larger program to commit to chemical safety across the business. Some programs even develop spill keys to use when spills occur.
  5. Provide proper equipment – Along with training, facility managers will need to offer equipment that protects employees who will be exposed and work with hazardous substances.

Final thoughts surrounding the aftermath

Depending on the spill and its circumstances, companies often must address the reasons for the spill and what it means for them moving forward. Some companies face public backlash if they are accused of mismanagement of their waste and confront repercussions on the state and federal levels.

In those cases, you should have legal support that ensures you have the proper permits and promote the relations with the government to do what’s best for the community – focusing on the cleanup of the spill itself.

But each accident is different, and you will need to take your time while still taking swift action to ensure the process is handled with success.