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How to respond to a chemical spill. (Health and Safety).

The best defence against chemical spills is a good offence. In other words, make prevention a priority and safe handling of hazardous chemicals second nature for every employee, says Jason Gauthier, operations supervisor for Northern Plating (Sudbury), Inc.

The hard-chrome plating and grinding firm in Lively in the City of Greater Sudbury trains each of its 11 employees in spill response.

"Everyone in the facility is trained equally on every spill that can happen, even if it's not their work area," Gauthier says.

Gauthier explains that the chromic acid the company uses is a hazardous chemical. To avoid contamination, a containment area was installed when the tanks were put in, and its capacity makes overflow virtually impossible. Tanks and containment vessel undergo a rigorous inspection annually.

As well, the company keeps spill kits on site and has waste picked up as quickly as possible, Gauthier says. This dovetails with an Ontario Ministry of the Environment recommendation that hazardous waste not be kept on site for more than three months. Experts say a small investment in emergency spill kits, available from hazardous spill response companies, could save thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. Northern Plating employs state-of-the-art scrubbers to catch fumes from their tanks.

"We changed our scrubbing equipment last year because it was due, so we put in better equipment than (is currently) required, in order to meet future regulations," Gauthier says. "If something ever malfunctions - even if (the scrubbers) go down to half capacity - the alarm company calls us," and the situation is managed immediately.

When it comes to safe chemical handling, "back up the backups, because the backups could go," he says. Northern Plating's policies have served them well.

"In 20 years in business we haven't had anything major (happen)," says Gauthier.

It is in the company's best interest to handle hazardous materials safely, he says. Safe handling measures protect employee health and avoid the costly clean-up of a substantial spill. As well, he points out, the minimum requirements in the field demand safe handling.

A company that wants to avoid problems should train every employee in proper clean-up of hazardous materials, as well as procedures and equipment maintenance, Gauthier says.

He recommends arranging training through a hazardous spill response company.

Seminars on containing dangerous chemicals can be customized for the products a business handles. In fact, industry experts say it is wise to have a relationship with a spill response company before a spill occurs. If a business regularly generates hazardous waste, a spill response company can collect it for disposal, and provide environmental protection equipment for purchase or rent.

Hazardous chemicals should be stored in a protected area; ideally in some sort of containment unit. Small quantities should be stored in a cupboard or locked cabinet, where containers will not be knocked over.

A chemical supplier must provide buyers with a material safety data sheet (MSDS). Consult it for toxicity and safe-handling guidelines.

A hazardous spill response company may be able to provide information on dangerous chemicals, as well. It is vital to use the right equipment and clean-up products. A reaction between the spilled chemical and the wrong kind of absorbent can make the problem worse.

The Ontario Ministry of the Environment must be notified immediately if a spill occurs, and they maintain a 24-hour reporting hotline (1-800-268-6060), which can direct a business to an appropriate spill response company, and/or provide the necessary information to begin clean-up.

Improper handling of hazardous chemicals, failure to report a spill, or improper disposal of chemical waste may result in fines for a company. Companies are rarely fined if the spill is an accident, experts say. It is the business that regularly violates disposal regulations that is likely to be penalized.

Get information before cleaning up a spill. What may have been acceptable practice 10 years ago is not necessarily acceptable today. For example, large quantities of fluorescent bulbs, which until this past year were allowed to go to landfills, now require careful tracking and disposal. Most contain some mercury. Light fixture ballasts were manufactured containing PCBs until 1982. Because a ballast may last 25 years, just tossing them out with the garbage is not wise. Anything sent to a landfill has the potential to leach contaminants into drinking water.
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Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Geographic Code:1CONT
Date:Apr 1, 2003
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