Response to Hazardous Substance Releases
When a hazardous substance release is reported, the Emergency Response program sets its response procedures into motion. Many steps and safety precautions must be followed to ensure a swift and effective response to the emergency.
The first step in any response action is to investigate the site. When a release is first reported, responders may not know all the necessary information such as how the release occurred, the extent of the damage, or even what hazardous substances are involved. All this information must be learned before any effective response effort can be carried out. Site investigation also allows responders to determine the appropriate safety measures to take during the response effort.
Response actions fall into three main categories, depending on the urgency of the situation. Once information has been gathered about the release, responders can determine what type of response action should be taken. A clean-up effort may be long-term or short-term. Depending on the circumstances, responders may employ some or all of these methods:
- Removing hazardous substances in soil or in containers
- Burning or otherwise treating hazardous substances
- Draining waste ponds or repairing leaky waste disposal pits so that hazardous substances do not seep into the ground
- Using chemicals to stop the spread of the hazardous substance release
- Encasing hazardous substances in place or otherwise ensuring that winds or rain do not move them around
- Providing a safe supply of drinking water to people affected by hazardous substance contamination
- Temporarily moving residents affected by hazardous substance contamination while cleanup activities take place
- Installing fences to prevent direct contact with hazardous substances
EPA has made great accomplishments, having conducted several thousand response actions since the Emergency Response program began in 1980, and has directed and monitored many other actions carried out by those responsible for the contamination. The threats confronted by the EPA Emergency Response program vary greatly in size, nature, and location, and have involved EPA in incidents requiring unusual or complex emergency response actions.