What should I do if I have an oil spill?
Oil spills range in size for example from a spill of a few litres within a kitchen from a boiler or Aga, to major spills from oil storage facilities or tankers. All spills have the potential for major impacts on human health, the environment and property structures.
If possible you should first try to ensure that the source of the leak is stopped. You should then alert the emergency services (if necessary) and or the regulators (e.g. Environment Agency, SEPA, NIEA and/or your local Environmental Health Officer). Thirdly, contact RAW on 0845 166 8491 who can arrange an appropriate response to the incident to minimise the damage resulting from the spill. The response will typically involve the following steps:
- Ensure there is no risk to human health
- Isolate the contamination source
- Contain the loss as far as possible to ensure that the damage to the environment is controlled
- Intercept pathways such as drainage systems and services, and
- Depending upon the severity, and as far as practicable and safe to do so, remove major contamination sources.
Does a spill responder need to be accredited?
There is currently no legal requirement for a spill responder to be accredited. However, there is an accreditation scheme in place in the UK (UK Spill) which is approved by the Environment Agencies of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Using a company that is accredited under this scheme gives you the confidence that the company has invested in its staff, equipment and relevant systems and will have the appropriate insurance policies, waste management and remediation licences. RAW is an accredited contractor under the UK Spill Contractors Accreditation scheme. The accreditation procedure ensures that the provider demonstrates that they follow best business and technical practice.
Accreditation is focussed according to the impacted environment and the ability of the contractor to deal with a specific spill incident. Under the scheme RAW are accredited for Standards Compliance, Freshwater Spills, Groundwater Spills and Land Remediation. A response provider accredited as 'Freshwater spills only' would be suitable to tackle the clean-up of a stream or river, but would not be considered appropriate for spills where oil is likely to have impacted the underlying groundwater.
The remediation of the residual damage to structures, services and groundwater requires specialist equipment and skills, and specialist in-situ clean-up solutions rather than excavation and disposal can often be used to minimise disruption to property owners/occupiers. A competent spill responder should be able to advise you on the appropriate course of action, and reinstatement works may need to conform to the relevant Building Regulations and Oil Storage Regulations. In addition if your property is listed due to special architectural or historic interest, works should be carried out in consultation with the local Conservation Officer.
Do you have to report a spill to the Environment Agency?
Although there is currently no legal requirement for an owner of a domestic property to report a spill incident to the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency or Environment Agency for Northern Ireland, it is an offence to cause or knowingly permit a discharge of Poisonous, noxious or polluting matter (or solid waste matter) to Controlled Waters. If an impact to controlled waters, which include surface waters and groundwater, occurs, the Environment Agencies have powers to enforce the investigation and clean-up works or undertake the required works and recoup these costs.
In addition if an incident occurs and the Agencies subsequently find you responsible for the pollution of Controlled Waters, it is likely that this will result in prosecution and the level of the fine is likely to be greater if no clean up has been undertaken and if the Agencies were not informed at the time of the incident.
For private businesses, public sector enterprises (e.g. schools, hospitals and government departments or agencies), voluntary or privately organized activities, under the Environmental Damage Regulations which came into force across the UK in 2009, if you or your business carry out any activity that causes damage to land, water or biodiversity, you have to notify the relevant regulators 'without delay' after the incident and you will have to remedy the damage. You will no longer have to be prosecuted first and in addition if there is a risk of damage from your business activities, you must prevent such damage occurring.
Advice on oil spills is available from the Environment Agency, the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency or Environment Agency for Northern Ireland at the following links:
Do you have to report a spill to your local council?
If you are a domestic property owner there is no legal requirement to inform the local council if you have an oil spill, however, most local authorities will want to be informed of these incidents to assess whether there is any risk posed to human health and to ensure the appropriate clean up is undertaken to address those risks. The local Environmental Health Officer should be informed if there is a potential impact to human health in order to ensure works are undertaken to an appropriate standard and to ensure no ongoing liabilities exist under Part IIA of the Environmental Protection Act 1990.
If deemed appropriate and if the Council consider there is a significant possibility of significant harm posed by the contamination as a result of the spill, the council can determine your property as "Contaminated Land" and enforce the investigation and clean-up of the contamination to reduce the identified risks to acceptable levels.
Will the spill harm my health or my families health?
Oils do contain chemicals that can cause adverse effects to human health but the effects will depend on the levels of those chemicals that you are exposed to and how long you will have been exposed to those chemicals. For example, if the concentration of vapours coming from the spill is high enough, it may cause nausea, headaches and dizziness.
You can find useful advice on the health effects of various fuel types from the UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) and the following web-link will take you to the information provided by the HPA for kerosene. Similar advice is available for other fuel types using the search engine provided.
If you are concerned about the health effects associated with an oil spill, pleasecontact RAW on 0845 1668491 for further advice.
What happens to oil when it enters the environment?
There are many different types of oils, for example, kerosene, diesel and gasoil. Each of these oils is composed of a large number of different chemicals, and each oil is a slightly different mixture of these chemicals. Some of these chemicals evaporate into the air when fuel oils are spilled onto soils or surface waters (e.g. streams, rivers, lakes, or oceans). Other chemicals in the oils dissolve in water following spills to surface waters or leaks from oil storage tanks. Some of the chemical constituents of the oils may slowly move through the soils and dissolve into the groundwater. The chemicals that evaporate may break down in air by reacting with sunlight. The chemicals that dissolve in water may also be broken down by organisms (e.g. bacteria and fungi) in the soil or water; however, this can take years to occur, if at all, and depends on the specific environmental conditions. Chemicals that attach to soil or other organic matter may remain in the environment for many years.
RAW will investigate the extent of the contamination and assess the risks posed to the environment and provide recommendations to address the contamination to mitigate the risks to acceptable levels.
Does my oil storage installation have to comply with the oil storage regulations?
Currently the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) Regulations (2001) apply in England, the Water Environment (Oil Storage) Regulations (2006) apply in Scotland and the Control of Pollution (Oil Storage) Regulations (2010) apply in Northern Ireland. At the present time there are no equivalent regulations for Wales.
In England and Northern Ireland at an industrial, commercial or institutional site, the Oil Storage Regulations may apply to you if you store oil with a capacity of more than 200 litres, outside and above ground.
In Scotland at an industrial, commercial or institutional site, the regulations will affect you if you store oil of any kind at your premises, regardless of the volume.
For domestic oil storage, i.e. on premises used wholly or mainly as a private dwelling, the regulations only apply to containers with a storage capacity of more than 3,500 litres in England and Northern Ireland, or 2,500 litres in Scotland. You will need to comply with Building Regulations for any new, replacement or altered domestic tanks and this will require a risk assessment to determine the need for secondary containment (e.g. a bund). A bunded tank is a tank that is contained within a surround that is capable of holding 110% of the storage capacity of the tank. A bunded tank prevents any oil spill from the tank polluting the surrounding area.
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland separate regulations apply to the storage of agricultural fuel oil.
In England the Oil Storage Regulations do not apply:
- at premises used for refining or distributing oil
- for oil stored in a building or entirely underground
- to the agricultural use of oil on farms - the storage of agricultural fuel oil in England and Wales comes under the Water Resources (Control of Pollution) (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) Regulations 2010
- to waste mineral oil
- at premises used mainly as a single private dwelling where less than 3,500 litres of oil is stored. However, Building Regulations do apply for new and replacement domestic tanks
The Environment Agency have published a series of FAQs on the Oil Storage Regulations and the requirement for compliance with these regulations. These can be found at the following link:
In Scotland the Oil Storage Regulations do not apply:
- to uncut bitumen - specifically excluded from the regulations as it was considered that the material would solidify in the vicinity of any spillage. However, bitumen based products, such as bitumen emulsion, which are liquid at normal ambient temperatures, should be stored in accordance with the regulations
- to the storage of oil in vehicles
- to the storage of oil on premises used wholly or mainly as a single private dwelling, with an oil storage capacity of less than 2,500 litres. [New or altered tanks should comply with applicable Regulations under the Building (Scotland) Act 2003.]
- to the storage of oil in any container situated wholly underground (unless situated within a building underground)
- to premises used for the onward distribution of oil to other places, like oil distribution depots for example. This includes sites where operations such as blending and filling are carried out, but does not include fuel installations for transport companies. Where oil is stored in accordance with an authorisation under Part 1 of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or a permit under the Pollution Prevention and Control (Scotland) Regulations 2000.
It should be noted that in Scotland the oil storage regulations now control the storage of agricultural fuel oil, previously regulated by the Control of Pollution (Silage, Slurry and Agricultural Fuel Oil) (Scotland) Regulations 2003.
In Northern Ireland the Oil Storage Regulations do not apply:
- to any container with a storage capacity of 200 litres or less
- on any premises used wholly or mainly as a private dwelling if the storage capacity of the container in which it is stored is 3500 litres or less
- on any farm if the oil is used in connection with agriculture within the meaning of the Agriculture Act (Northern Ireland) 1949(2)
- on any premises regulated under the Control of Major Accident Hazards Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2000(3) if the storage capacity of the container in which it is stored is 2,500 tonnes or more, and
- to any container which is wholly underground
What should I do to prevent a pollution incident occuring if there is a spill on my site?
You can prevent pollution incidents by using appropriate pollution prevention measures, such as:
- Ensure storage tanks and vessels are in good condition and are protected from accidental damage
- Provide secondary containment systems such as bunds for storage tanks. A bund is an impermeable wall or barrier and base that surrounds the tank so as to hold the contents of the tank in the event of a leak, and
- Supervise deliveries of fuels to your site
For commercial sites you can often avoid a spill becoming a pollution incident by using effective incident response strategies, which could include the following:
- Have a pollution incident response procedure for dealing with spills. Make sure that all staff know what to do in the event of a spill. This includes notifying relevant regulatory authorities
- Ensure that absorbent materials are available for use in the event of a spill. Ensure these are suitable for the type and quantity of materials you use and that they are located close to your storage areas, and
- Have an up-to-date drainage plan so you know where your drains connect to (sewer or surface waters)
In recent weeks the RAW Team in Belfast, as part of the companies Spill Response...
Dr. Jon Burton of RAW Group to address Environmental Sustainability at UKSpill seminar on 16th April 2013
Click here for details of UKSpill April 2013 SeminarUKSpill's annual InlandSpill...