Spill Response and Prevention

Background Information

In today’s blog we will be discussing some of the best ways to prepare for and respond to spills and releases. This type of information is extremely important for any type of business to understand as these incidents can occur unexpectedly. It is very important to understand how costly environmental liability can be, especially if overlooked. Not to mention, environmental liability does not only cost cash, but could also include things like:

  • Third party lawsuits
  • Environmental enforcement fines
  • Property devaluation
  • Poor public relations and public perception
  • Injuries or damage to human health
  • Etc.

Spills/ releases can be defined as: “any unpermitted emission, spillage, leakage, pumping, pouring, emptying, or dumping of oil, petroleum, or other hazardous substance”. On top of this, a release may be due to the actions of a third party. However, the entity having control of the released product (or the facility) is typically responsible for reporting and initial response actions.

Here are some of the things you may be faced with if/ when an incident occurs:

Business Concerns

  • Production rescheduling
  • Transportation logistics
  • Vendor issues
  • Public perception / legal issues
  • Media inquiries

Employee Concerns

  • Evacuations
  • Injuries / fatalities
  • Security
  • Family notifications

Regulatory Issues

  • Multi-jurisdictional issues
  • Limited interagency communication
  • Record requests
  • Legal issues
  • Input on response activities
  • Reporting requirements

Responder Issues

  • Facility records requests
  • Site meetings /conferences
  • Facility intrusion
  • Active response planning
  • Increased environmental impacts

How To Prepare

The best way to prepare for a spill is to attempt to prevent one. However, accidents can occur even if all proper precautions are taken. To properly prepare for an incident, one should develop things such as:

  • Company policies and procedures
  • Response resources
  • Employee education on reporting requirements
  • Media responses
  • Regulatory responses
  •  Claims resources

Additionally, it will be extremely important to have resources prepared regarding environmental regulations and reporting. Compliance with reporting requirements and other regulations is extremely important considering not complying can result in fines or other penalties for your company.

Reporting A Spill/ Release

Depending on where the accident occurred and the severity, you may have to report it to both the federal government and the state. You can find these reporting requirements below. However, it may still be best to consult a professional as well considering every business is different and has different needs.


  • Reporting requirements under the Oil Discharge Contingency Plan Regulations, UST regulations, AST regulations, etc.


  • Reporting requirements per the US EPA (OPA 90, CWA, etc.)
  • Reporting requirements per the US DOT

Federal Reporting Requirements:

Once a release has been discovered, it must be reported immediately if:

  • Any volume of oil/petroleum that violates state water quality standards, causes a sheen on the water surface, or leaves sludge/emulsion beneath the water surface.
  • Any reportable volume of material from a facility subject to SPCC requirements.
  • Any regulated chemical is released in a volume greater than the reportable quantity for that chemical.

Typically, the US EPA will request additional written information regarding the release, response activities, and the results of remediation activities within 60 days of the release. Federal enforcement action also typically occurs 2-4 months after an incident.

State Reporting Requirements (regarding above ground chemical spills):

You must report the spill immediately (within 24 hours) if:

  • Confirmed or suspected petroleum releases from aboveground storage tanks.
  • Suspected releases of petroleum from USTs.
  • Confirmed releases from USTs greater than 25 gallons.
  • A release of any oil, petroleum, or hazardous material that threatens, impacts, or causes a sheen on a water body.
  • A release of any hazardous material in a volume greater than the reportable quantity (RQ).

U.S. DOT Reporting Requirements:

Transportation-related hazardous materials incidents. Within 12 hours you must report if:

  • 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
  • Fire, breakage, or spillage of infectious substances are involved
  • A release of a marine pollutant exceeding 400 Kg/450 L is involved
  • A “lading retention system” is damaged requiring repair

All of this raises the question of how do you report a spill or release?

Federal Reporting (EPA and DOT):

  • National Response Center – 800-424-8802
  • 24-hrs a day / 365 days per year

Local Reporting:

  • Local health/ environmental health departments, fire departments, LEPCs, etc. Contact numbers vary by county.

State Reporting:

North Carolina

Monday thru Friday Business Hours:

Call the appropriate NCDEQ regional office.

Weekends and After Hours:    

(800) 858-0368

South Carolina

Monday thru Friday Business Hours:

Call the appropriate SCDHEC regional office.

Weekends and After Hours:    

(888) 481-0125


Monday thru Friday Business Hours:

919-807-6308 or the appropriate VADEQ regional office.

Weekends and After Hours:    

(800) 468-8892


It is important to remember that environmental problems = expensive problems. This is why it is so important to prepare in advance for spills and to also consult professionals to ensure that you are ready to go in case of emergency. If you are in need of any environmental services, please reach out to info@hesnc.com for more information on what we can do for you!

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