Toxic Spills: The Right Products Can be a Big Help

Toxic spills occur with great frequency in and around the United States. In most cases, containment and cleanup are routine.

But the Environmental Protection Agency spill that began Aug. 5 and eventually dumped 3 million gallons of toxic mine waste into the Animas River captured the public’s attention. The yellow and orange river water quickly stretched 100 miles into three states, carrying such toxins as lead, arsenic, copper and mercury. The EPA itself accidentally released this massive flow of waste from the King Mine, abandoned in the 1920s.

Consequences have been far-reaching. The Animas River provides water to residents of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah who live along its banks, and is an important source of irrigation for farmers. The disastrous magnitude of this spill was immediately evident, even to the casual observer.

As the EPA labors to address the fallout of this extensive spill, containment and remediation are matters of utmost importance, obviously. The federal government recently announced plans to open a temporary treatment system on Oct. 14. Early cleanup response to this incident included the construction of plastic-lined retention ponds to pump in and contain some of the tainted water before it spreads further.

These liners are part of a diverse and prolific assortment of products that contribute significantly to the process of spill remediation whenever an environmental accident occurs.

Liners for temporary ponds

Heavy-duty pond and lagoon liners are made of reinforced PVC and other materials that prevent seepage into the ground. They are designed to hold water, sludge and waste, depending on the nature of the incident.

One remediation method in retention ponds involves deploying a series of floating PVC curtains in a baffle pattern. The baffles are positioned in a staggered configuration, forcing the flow of water to move from one side of the pond to the other. The action sets up a natural electrical charge that promotes settling of the toxic particles.

Oil booms

Spills come in many types, and so do spill remediation products. If the accident is an oil spill on the water, special containment booms are designed to surround it quickly before it fans out into other areas. Made of expanded polyethylene foam and PVC plastic, the anchored boom floats to form a ring-like barrier that protects the rest of the waters and facilitates cleanup. Special absorbent booms not only encompass the spill, but also help soak it up at the perimeter. Fire-resistant booms allow for the process of in-situ burning, in which the crew ignites the oil spill to burn it off safely.

Various boom models are on the market to address the conditions at deployment, whether the water is calm, fast or open.

Dewatering products

Dewatering bags and tubes can often be useful on a spill site. Cleanup workers fill the bags with contaminated water under a stringent monitoring process. The filtered water gradually passes through the sides of the bag, leaving the sediment and pollutants behind.

Dewatering tubes, also known as sludge tubes, are much larger than the bags – sometimes 200 feet long. They are also made of a heavier material but work according to the same process as the bags, despite holding far greater quantities of water. Tubes are filled and refilled until the solids left behind reach 85 percent of the inside space and are ready for disposal.

Chemical treatments are available that promote flocculation, a process that causes fine particulates to clump in masses for easier cleanup. The treatment is sometimes added while the contaminated water is in a dewatering bag or tube.

Washing down vehicles

One area of cleanup not always readily apparent is the need to keep vehicles on the site from spreading contaminants. As contaminated trucks and other vehicles undergo a wash-down, it's crucial to have portable spill berms positioned underneath to catch the water for safe disposal. These berms are shallow holding units with walls that bounce back, so a vehicle can drive over them for a wash-down.

Tanks, incinerators

Downstream from the spill site, it is imperative that there be storage available for drinking water, fuel or waste. Many different sizes of pillow tanks (or flexible storage containers) are available, simple to transport and store. They range in size from 25 to 210,000 gallons. Onion tanks – named for their distinctive shape – are easy to deploy, with their self-rising and self-supporting walls. Storage tanks made of steel, fiberglass or plastic provide more long-term storage of liquids.

When it comes time to dispose of items that have been contaminated with pollutants during the cleanup, portable incinerators get the job done. Ridding the site of such items without spreading the contamination is a vital part of the process. 

Contact us

A spill is obviously an extremely unwelcome event. But tools such as those in the Kraken and Triton product lines of GEI Works help make restoration possible. Whether it’s a small oil spill on a lake or 3 million gallons of waste released into a river, GEI Works has many products helpful in addressing the situation.

Contact the experts at GEI Works for more information. Call (+1) 772-646-0597 or toll free at (888) 701-9889.

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