Spill Response, Abatement, and Reporting; Part One


One never wants a spill or release to happen. However, if you are involved in the production, handling, storage, or transportation of chemicals, they are bound to happen at some point over time. It is much better to be prepared in advance for these situations considering if you do not have a plan in place, these spills can be much more costly in many ways (in particular, financial). Read through the sections below to get a better understanding of what to do in the event of a spill.

What is a spill?

The general definition of a spill is “any unpermitted emission, spillage, leakage, pumping, pouring, emptying, or dumping of oil, petroleum, or other hazardous substance”. Spills can vary greatly both in size and in severity and can have different impacts on the environment. A spill or release may be due to natural causes, an accident, equipment failure, or actions of a third party. However, regardless of the cause, in most instances the entity which is in control of the release product is responsible for both reporting and the initial response actions for the incident.

Planning Ahead

Some of the concerns one may be faced with environmental incidents such as a spill or release include:

  • Distraction and interruption of business operations
  • Internal inquires
  • Employee issues / conflict
  • Customer impacts (delayed shipments, etc.)
  • Regulatory inquiries and reporting obligations (EPA, OSHA, state, etc.)
  • Environmental impacts
  • Legal concerns
  • Media inquiries / Public relation burdens

It is important to prepare before an incident occurs. Preparing for an incident in advance can help to not only minimize the damage from an incident; but also, minimize incident costs and business impacts.  Proper training can help to prevent incidents from happening in the first place.

Environmental Regulations

There are many important environmental regulations regarding the spill or release of hazardous or non-hazardous waste. Therefore, it is crucial to consult a professional both before and after a spill occurs.

State Reporting Requirements:

Individual states have regulatory reporting and remediation requirements for uncontrolled chemical releases.   While these can vary somewhat from state to state, in general the requirements are:

Spills or releases must be reported within 24-hours (maximum) if:

  • Confirmed or suspected petroleum releases from aboveground or underground storage tanks greater than 25 gallons or impacting surface water
  • Release of any volume of petroleum not abated within 24-hours
  • Suspected releases of petroleum from USTs
  • A release of any oil, petroleum, or hazardous material that threatens, impacts, or causes a sheen on a body of water
  • A release of any hazardous material in a volume greater than the reportable quantity (RQ).

Federal Reporting Requirements:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency–

In the event of a release or spill, one must immediately report the event to the Environmental Protection Agency if the event meets any of the criteria below:

  • Any volume of oil/ petroleum that violates state water quality standards, causes a sheen on the water surface, or lease sludge/ emulsion beneath the water surface.
  • Any reportable volume from a facility subject to SPCC requirements.
  • Releases of hazardous chemicals in quantities greater than their RQ.

In general, the Environmental Protection Agency may request additional written information regarding the release, response activities, and the result of remediation activities within 60 days of the spill or release.

U.S. Department of Transportation–

In the event of a release or spill that involves transportation-related hazardous materials, one must report the event to the Department of Transportation within 12 hours if the event meets any of the following criteria:

  • A person is killed or injured (requiring hospitalization)
  • Public evacuation is required
  • A major transportation artery is closed for one hour or more
  • Aircraft flight plans / routes are diverted
  • Fire, breakage, or spillage of radioactive materials are involved
  • A release of marine pollutant exceeding 400 Kg/450 L is involved
  • A “lading retention system” is damaged requiring repair

Reporting Releases

As seen above, there are many different regulations and regulatory agencies that must be satisfied regarding the reporting of a spill or release. State reporting contact numbers vary from state to state, so make sure you have the number(s) available for your area. For Federal Reporting (and many states), the first contact is to the National Response Center:

National Response Center:


24-hrs a day / 365 days per year

Local Reporting:

Local health/environmental health departments, fire departments, etc. Contact numbers vary by county, so make sure you have these numbers available for your areas.   Generally, calling 911 satisfies local reporting.


Although there are many different things one must be aware of when creating a plan to combat a spill or release, working with an expert in the area can help some of this confusion. Stay tuned for our next bi-weekly blog as it will be a continuation of this blog! For more information regarding what your company can do to get ahead of a future spill, release, or other incident, reach out to info@hesnc.com for more information!

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