The number of industrial chemical spills in North America is continuing unabated. The U.S. National Response Center and Environment Canada report that, on average, there are more than 40,000 reported spill events annually in North America. In Canada alone, there were 175,000 tons of chemicals released into the Canadian water system in 2007 (as reported by National Pollutant Release Inventory [NPRI]).
Despite industry having a best practice for managing incidents, accidents will happen, and managers must undertake due diligence to evaluate every possible contingency.
Whether spill containment planning requires redundant systems or external containment systems, response time is elemental to minimizing the risk and its long-term effects. Many facilities entrust their spill containment procedures to offsite, third-party contractors. A time gap exists between the reported incident and the arrival of the offsite contractor. On-site, manually deployed solutions are most commonly used and often do not have enough capacity. There are several reasons why companies should invest in spill containment technology:
No matter where you stand with regard to the environment, any one of the reasons above mentioned will impact you or your company in many ways.
To date, there are two methods used to contain chemical spills: manually deployed solutions and permanent immobile solutions such as dikes, oil water separators and containment tanks. The most commonly used solutions are the “magic” spill kit, but the spill kits certainly carry no magic. It takes long to deploy, they are limited to treat only small quantities, and they expose employees to hazardous chemicals. What would you use in the case of a 10,000-liter spill?
Permanent immobile systems may offer a better solution than manually deployed systems but require a large investment in infrastructure. Moreover, although each may provide adequate environmental protection in some circumstances, all have glaring weaknesses that limit their effectiveness. For example, dikes are a good way to contain chemical spills around drains, but there is a need to leave an opening to allow rainwater to drain. Therefore, when a spill occurs, the opening has to be blocked with emergency mobile solutions described earlier. Other shortcomings of using a dike are the space required and the high cost and time to complete the project.
If you could design the perfect chemical spill containment system, what features would it have?
An example of a proactive company is St. Mary’s Cement in St. Mary’s, Ontario. Following a thorough analysis of the company’s chemical spill practices, it recently installed a state-of-the-art system. The analysis led St. Mary’s Cement to identify potential points of failure in the facility. The system that they installed addressed that issue. The map taken from the software can be seen at Figure 1. The software enables plugging drains around the facility by pressing the numbers on the map. It is important to note that the system St. Mary’s Cement chose is the one that it found best suited its needs. There are other systems available and companies have to choose the one best suited to needs.
Figure 1. Photo of St. Mary’s Cement used in the containment control software. Each number correlates to a drain controlled by the system.
To sum up, chemical spills have stayed the same; it is our society, awareness and rules that have changed. We can no longer hide behind the “we didn’t know” excuse. It is time for industry to catch up and put an end to chemical spills contaminating our water and soil. The technology is out there. Think of how much cleaner our water would be with a large portion of the 40,000 spills occurring every year contained. Think of all the animals and habitats we will save. Think of all the fines we will never pay.
Everyone is talking about clean energy, recycling and everything green, yet one of the dirtiest and most evident damage to the environment – chemical spills – is almost never addressed properly. We can become the leaders in changing our planet. All we have to do is step out of the box and adopt new ideas.
About the author:
Shachar Parran is CEO of ChemiGreen Inc. ChemiGreen’s wireless spill containment system (WI-Plug) provides a solution for industrial chemical spill containment. The WI-Plug system prevents spills from leaving the property and turns an emergency into a routine cleanup. For more information, visit www.chemigreen.com.