Waste Management: Five Events That Require an Emergency Response
Despite advances in technology and benefits of smarter operations enabled by tech tools, the waste management industry still faces risks associated with collecting, transporting and properly disposing of waste. When accidents occur that involve hazardous materials, there are special considerations that companies must understand when planning their response.
When facing fuel spills, chemical spills, DOT hazardous materials spills (such as mercury and explosives) and EPA hazardous waste materials, emergency response becomes a vital necessity. Fast, professional response is also critical to high-pressure tasks such as identifying unknown substances, spill containment, proper waste handling and cleanup.
Following a natural disaster, waste and environmental concerns are only a part of a larger, more complicated picture. A commitment to safety and full compliance with all applicable regulations must be made with every emergency situation, from the initial response to cleanup and ultimately the closeout of all paperwork and reporting.
Below are five of the most common events that can require an emergency response:
- Fuel Spills
Fuel spills remain a common occurrence, especially for operators of large vehicle fleets. With any spill, the first priorities are safety and containment. Ensuring a safe, compliant response begins with thorough documentation and identification of proper resources. To avoid regulatory penalties or employee injuries, fuel clean up must be conducted with a full commitment to compliance, environmental responsibility and personal safety.
- Container Leaks
Two of the most important steps in response to leaking containers are identifying the spilled material and securing the leaking container for cleaning. For compliance and safety, the entire process must be monitored to ensure timely and accurate communication, proper documentation and appropriate procedures. After identifying the leaking material and assessing any immediate threats to human health and the environment, expert technicians, usually from a certified third-party provider, will secure both the container and the surrounding area while also ensuring that no additional material is allowed to escape. The container may also be moved to a secure area, with special attention paid to weather and wind direction to maximize safety. Technicians may also perform air monitoring to check oxygen and VOC levels. Cleaning can be performed using specialized equipment, which may include HEPA-filter vacuums, salvage drums and disposable cleaning products. Technicians will separate damaged or contaminated items from any items deemed safe. Upon completion, post-event photos may be taken to confirm completion.
- Unknown Substance Handling
Substance identification is an urgent responsibility for those responding to a hazardous waste event. Hazardous waste emergency specialists are trained to not only identify numerous chemicals and compounds, but also to assess any potential danger. These specialists will identify the unknown substance as quickly and accurately as possible, then provide the Safety Data Sheet (SDS) for the substance. The SDS is then used to inform the on-site technicians of proper handling procedures, physical data, potential health hazards and equipment requirements for storage and disposal. In the event that the material involved is unidentifiable upon initial response, samples can be pulled and run through a special analysis, which will give important details necessary for safety and disposal.
- Chemical and Laboratory Spills
A chemical or laboratory spill presents many serious risks, from potential health and safety hazards to the possibility of damaging regulatory violations and fines. In the event of a chemical or other laboratory spill, emergency response must immediately focus on safety, identification and containment. To ensure both safety and compliance are taken into account, highly trained specialists must oversee the entire containment and cleaning process, focusing on consistent and accurate communication, proper documentation and clear procedures. After identifying the spilled chemical and assessing any immediate health threats, technicians will secure the surrounding area and contain the spill. If necessary, the container may be moved to a secure area, with special attention paid to factors such as weather conditions and wind direction, to maximize safety. Technicians may also perform air monitoring to check oxygen and or hazardous atmosphere levels. Cleaning will then be performed using specialized equipment, which may include HEPA-filter vacuums, salvage drums and disposable cleaning products. Technicians will also separate damaged or contaminated items from any items deemed safe as well as stabilize or neutralize unstable materials.
- Natural Disaster Response
In addition to destruction and financial devastation, natural disasters can present communities with significant health, safety and environmental risks, often in the form of hazardous spills and leaks. To reduce the risks of injury, environmental harm or regulatory penalties, a successful disaster response requires extensive expertise and knowledge of hazardous materials and waste management, including applicable procedures and regulations. Often, natural disaster response requires emergency spill response to contain fuel spills, chemical spills, DOT hazardous materials spills and EPA hazardous waste contaminants as well as critical tasks described above such as identifying unknown substances, proper waste handling and cleanup. Pumping contaminated water and mold abatement are also commonplace with disaster response. Though not considered hazardous, they may still impose a health risk following flooding or water damage.
Waste management professionals are acutely aware of the risks involved with their jobs. The dangers hazardous materials pose bring an added complexity to the industry as a whole. Ensuring that emergency response plans include consultancy or end-to-end servicing from well-trained professionals will help protect people, the environment and resources and maintain compliance with federal, state and local regulations governing how disaster response, operation and cleanup must be performed.
Mike Rozembajgier is vice president at Stericycle Environmental Solutions, a leading provider of environmental and regulated waste management solutions.
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