Prevent, contain and clean up chemical spills

Turf managers handle a variety of chemicals, many of which-when accidentally spilled-pose a threat to human health and the environment. Most of the pesticides we use in day-to-day grounds maintenance become either regulated hazardous wastes or pollutants if you spill them. Regulated hazardous wastes are wastes whose cleanup the federal government strictly regulates under Environmental Protection Agency regulations. Pollutants generally are other chemical wastes. State and local governments, and less strictly the federal government, regulate their cleanup.

Advance preparation To prevent a spill accident, limit the number of staff members you allow to handle chemicals. Those staff members responsible for these substances should be well-trained-either by outside professionals or through an in-house training program-in the safe handling, mixing and storage of these materials. It is essential that you maintain up-to-date Material Safety Data Sheets and specimen product labels. These documents provide valuable information to response personnel in the event of a spill.

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To minimize the overall impact of a spill, purchase and store product concentrates in as small a quantity as is practical for your operation. You will forget the savings of purchasing a 55-gallon drum of material if the drum is accidentally punctured and an extensive, expensive spill cleanup is necessary. Mixing chemicals close to the point of application also is helpful. If you have an accident en route from the shop to the point of application with only water in the applicator, you can avoid or lessen cleanup costs. After all, it is less costly to clean up 2 gallons of concentrate than 50 gallons of ready-to-use solution.

Spill containment Keep a spill-containment kit with your application equipment or at least nearby. This can be a commercially prepared kit or one that you put together yourself. Below is a list of the types of equipment and materials to include. This is by no means an all-inclusive list. It is important that you change the kit's components to suit your particular needs and the types of chemical you routinely use. The photo on page 20 shows a typical spill kit used by over-the-road chemical transporters.

One 30-gallon plastic drum with tight fitting lid One flat-scoop shovel Two 5-inch-by-10-feet sorbent booms Six heavyweight 30-gallon plastic bags Two cubic feet of loose absorbent material Five 6.5-gallon-capacity sorbent pillows Chemical-resistant gloves Disposable coveralls 24 square feet of sorbent pads

The drum provides a convenient place to store and transport containment and cleanup materials and will serve as a storage/disposal container for materials recovered during cleanup.

The primary use of booms is to contain a spill. A variety of booms is available to meet your particular needs, so select your boom based on its ability to effectively absorb and hold the material from the spill. Because most of the products we use in the grounds-care industry are water-soluble, emulsifiable or dispersible, the bulk of what the boom needs to control is water. Fillers for these booms include 100-percent polypropylene microfibers, other non-woven fibers or expanded silicate particles. The fiber-based materials will absorb up to 11 times their weight, while expanded silicate materials are capable of absorbing up to 15 times their weight in spilled liquid. A typical 5-inch by 10-foot boom will absorb 20 to 26 gallons of liquid. In selecting the best boom also consider the residual ash content of the material. If the spilled material is a regulated hazardous waste, incineration may be your best disposal option. In determining disposal costs, hazardous-waste incineration companies calculate their charges to customers by including the company's cost to remove and dispose of residual combustion products.

Selection of loose sorbent materials also demands some decision-making on your part. Two major categories of sorbents exist: those that absorb the spilled material and those that gel the spilled material.

The five main absorbent materials include: Diatomaceous earth Clay or "kitty litter" Cellulose Shredded polyethylene microfiber Silicate particulate.

The advantages of cellulose and polyethylene fiber materials are that they have a low ash content, they are lightweight and they are easy to transport and deploy. Another plus for the cellulose-based materials is any residual left after cleanup blends into the surrounding vegetation and will biodegrade. Polyethylene fibers will not biodegrade, and their white color may be unattractive in the landscape.

The expanded silicate particulate material has the lightweight advantage, but it creates more residual ash than the previous two types of materials. This mater ial shares the lack of biodegradation and unsightly color properties of polyethylene fiber materials. All three of these materials may be difficult to place and maintain in windy conditions.

The clay and diatomaceous earth products, however, are well-suited to windy conditions. While they don't biodegrade, they will breakdown in a relatively short time and incorporate into the surrounding soil with few or no adverse effects. The disadvantage to these two types of products is that they are heavy and, when incinerated, create more residual ash than other products. If the material spilled creates a regulated hazardous waste, you should avoid clay and diatomaceous earth.

The gel absorbents fill a small but valuable niche in spill containment. They offer the ability to immediately immobilize liquid by turning it to a rubbery solid, which you can scoop up for disposal (see photo, above). The gel adds little additional weight to the spilled material. However, its usefulness is limited to pooled liquids. On wet surfaces, the gel tends to stick and is difficult to remove. The relatively high cost ($12 to $15 per pound) of the gel makes it a poor choice on large spills.

Sorbent pads and pillows are made from the same type of materials contained in booms. They are available in several sizes and shapes. Pads and pillows absorb spills that the booms have contained. However, whenever possible, clear away pools of liquid with a pump or other means. The material may be salvaged or held for offsite disposal.

Cleanup In many instances, it will not be possible for turf managers to attempt their own cleanups. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires that, under certain conditions, staff participating in a spill cleanup have advanced training. Once you are able to contain a spill, contact the regulatory authority in your area for advice on cleanup. If the spilled material creates a regulated hazardous waste, disposal of the spilled material and the resulting contaminated soil, debris and materials contaminated during cleanup is expensive. While it is necessary to remove all of the contamination to the established cleanup standard set by the regulatory agency, you will want to minimize removal of any excess materials. Most waste-disposal sites charge for disposal by the weight or volume of the materials.

With recent changes in hazardous-waste regulations, landfilling of pesticide wastes is not possible without extensive treatment prior to disposal. In general, incineration in a licensed facility is the most cost-effective means of disposal. These costs may exceed $650 per 55-gallon drum of material. Handling and disposal of materials regulated as hazardous wastes are subject to a series of complex and often confusing regulations. Before attempting to dispose of such regulated materials contact your regulatory agency or a professional cleanup contractor for specific guidance.

Even though many of the materials you use do not become hazardous wastes when spilled, they may still present a threat to human health and the environment and are considered pollutants. As such, you must still clean them up to standards established by federal, state or local authorities. Contact these agencies as early in the cleanup process as is practical. You can obtain a copy of spill reporting requirements from your state environmental agency. Generally, officials can advise you of "how clean is clean" and in establishing the amount of spilled materials that may be left on site. They also can assist you in arranging for disposal of the materials. Often, disposal of pollutants may be as simple as removing the contaminated material to a location that regulatory authorities deem suitable. Distribute materials over the location in a manner that approximates the label application rate. If no suitable site is available at your facility, offsite disposal is necessary. Suitable offsite locations often include agricultural areas or local landfills capable of accepting the material. Check with regulatory authorities before disposal.

Cleanup generally comprises one or a combination of these three methods:

Physical removal. This is the most common method of the three. It is method of choice when the spill results in a concentration of chemical that creates both an environmental hazard and an eyesore such as a large bare spot or an annoying odor or stain.

Neutralization. This is the method of choice to treat low-permeability surfaces such as sidewalks, parking lots, driveways or other paved areas. Neutralization consists of applying a compound that either chemically renders the spilled material harmless or speeds up its degradation by changing the chemical composition of the spilled material.

In-place treatment. This method is best for oil-based spills, such as fuel or lubricants. In this case, you must till the area to mix the spilled material with surrounding soils and add nutrients that accelerate natural bacterial actions. Depending on initial concentrations of the spilled material, vegetation may be re-established within a few weeks to several months.

If a spill occurs, do what you can to contain it. Keep the spill from entering a storm drain, sanitary sewer system or waterway that exits from your property and notify the appropriate authorities. In most cases, it is counterproductive to apply water on the spilled material. This increases the area of contamination and the amount of liquids requiring disposal. Simply washing away a spill with water is not an acceptable method and may violate state and federal law.

Post-cleanup testing Most states require post-cleanup testing of the area on which a spill occurred. A state-approved laboratory of local regulatory agency must complete the analysis of soil samples taken from the area. Obtain laboratory tests only if you are no longer able to see or smell the chemical.

Most states require you to report all spills that threaten to contaminate water, pollute soil or create a nuisance. Furthermore, in some cases, you must file a report with federal government. When in doubt, notify the National Spill Response Center at 1-800-424-8802.

G. Paul Belt is an environmental technician in the Kansas Department of Health and Environment's Assessment & Restoration Section (Topeka, Kan.).

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