Precautions Against Oil Spills

Oil is a contaminant in groundwater, soil, rivers, lakes and oceans.

Sources of Oil Spills

This spill will slowly wash off into the surrounding soil and groundwater.This spill will slowly wash off into the surrounding soil and groundwater.
Protecting against oil spills is important to protect your home environment and to guard against environmental contamination. Proper maintenance, procedures and preventive measures combine to prevent and contain oil spills.
Oil on water has a characteristic rainbow sheen.

The EPA has drastically changed rules for safe handling and containment of oil and gas products for both commercial and home use. Even common practices like changing your own vehicle oil are now regulated to avoid accidental spills and contamination. Homes heated with fuel oil have large tanks that are often not maintained or even installed safely. Bilges in watercraft are often contaminated with oil and gas, then pumped into the surrounding water.

Preventing Spills

Commercial oil spill containment with a concrete berm.

Proper maintenance of equipment and fittings can prevent leaks. Make sure your fuel tank is installed correctly and placed in a sheltered area. Even tanks installed in basements can leak into stormwater or sewage drains installed in the floor. Have your vehicle oil changed at an approved facility. Be careful with watercraft to avoid contaminating your bilge with oil or gas--use funnels to pour petroleum products.

Containment and Cleanup

Spill kits should be large enough for the potential spill.

Outdoor tanks in some areas must have earth dikes built to contain spills. In other areas, concrete berms (containment pools) have to be built around tanks to contain possible spills or leaks. Commercial facilities use oil/water separators to contain accidental leaks and spills.

Contaminated soil must be processed to remove the oil--sending it to a landfill will contaminate local groundwater. Arrange for a local environmental contractor to dispose of the soil. Spills on solid surfaces like concrete or asphalt can be contained with absorbent temporary berms and soaked up with absorbent materials like sawdust or fibers. All of these materials should be collected in a solvent-resistant container and processed separately from normal trash. Commercial "spill kits" are available in many sizes to fit any potential spill.

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