Chemical spills in the environment can have a devastating impact on environmental health. These toxins can soak into the ground, get into the water, or can become airborne and enter the human body, causing serious health consequences. These incidents however are preventable if proper protocol is followed.
Natural disasters pose a huge risk to chemical storage. In addition to damages from wind, floods, fires and earthquakes, natural disasters often cause dangerous substances to be released into the environment from chemical storage facilities. This can have devastating impacts on wildlife and humans alike. If you witness a dangerous substance being spilled into the environment as a result of an accident or otherwise, the EPA has a list of guidelines on how to handle each situation. This is a vital part of Environmental Emergency Response Training.
Emergency Spills. If you witness a spill which poses an immediate threat to environmental or public health, this is considered an emergency. Substances include oil, chemical waste, radiation, biological spills, and anything into international waters. Please call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 to report immediately.
Emergency spills can be human-caused, as well. If you witness any of the above occurring not as a result of natural disaster, please call the National Response Center at the number above as well.
How to Report a Spill or Chemical Release. You will need to report a spill or release when the spill or release exceeds federal limit for the given substance. When you report a spill or chemical release to the EPA, you will need to provide as much information as you can. A guideline of report criteria can be found at https://www.epa.gov/emergency-response/what-information-needed-when-reporting-oil-spill-or-hazardous-substance-release.
Non-emergency Spills. Non-emergency spills may also occur during a natural disaster event. These spills may be in the form of pesticide or minor chemical spills. If you believe the situation is an emergency, call the National Response Center at 1-800-424-8802 to report it. If you do not suspect that human health is immediately in danger, call the National Pesticide Center for pesticide spills at 1-800-858-7378 or the CHEMTREC for chemical spills at 1-800-424-9300 for further instruction. Do not attempt to handle any chemical you are not familiar with.
Ingestion of a Toxic Substance. If you or another person has ingested or become exposed to a dangerous or unknown substance, call the poison control center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. If the person is unconscious, has trouble breathing or has convulsions, call 911 as this is a medical emergency and human health is seriously at risk. Never touch, directly smell or taste an unknown substance. Many substances which are odorless and clear are dangerous.
Report a Violation. Harmful substances are released into the environment regularly, and this is preventable. Environmental violations are not emergencies because they do not put health immediately at risk. Violations include smoke and particulate emissions which exceed legal limit, improper treatment of hazardous waste, unpermitted dredging of wetlands, illegal dumping and illegal pesticide use. These actions diminish the quality of the environment which we all share and can lead to health problems. Please report any of these actions to the EPA at www.epa.gov/tips . Violations of this nature can also be handled by the respective state’s environmental agency or regional EPA office.
When disposing toxic substances, follow the guidelines provided to prevent an accidental spill and subsequent environmental damage. Additionally, you can utilize historical data about previous spills by visiting the United States Coast Guard National Response Center’s website.