Prepare for spill emergencies on farms

Gloria Hafemeister
Now Media Group


How many farmers have been side-tracked while putting diesel fuel in their tractor, only to find the tank running over when they get back to shut it off?

How many farmers have been changing the oil in the farm truck or tractor and spilled the contents of the oil pan in the process?

How many times have farmers been carrying a container filled with oil and dropped it, causing it to spring a leak on the floor of the shop?

Spills happen. Don't cry over spilled oil. Simply move quickly to contain it and dispose of the absorbed oil or fuel properly.

Farmers and their workers will be better prepared to deal with spills if they have proper training in advance and if they have had some hands-on experience cleaning up a mess. To clean up a spill efficiently, it is important to be prepared in advance by having the proper equipment and supplies readily available.

Farms that handle large volumes of oils and fuels and that have numerous employees operating fuel pumps are required to follow certain rules.

They must establish specific operating procedures for routine handling of products to prevent a discharge of oil.

Proper training important

To avoid problems, prevent overfilling of tanks; maintain gauges and alarms; perform regular inspections; ensure that delivery drivers remain with delivery vehicle at all times while loading/unloading oil; and maintain tanks and supports to prevents leaks and spills.

When larger amounts of fuel or oils are stored on the farm there should be a second containment around the tank to capture liquids in case of a spill. In the event of a spill from a tank, oil will be contained with secondary containment or readily available man power. If a spill occurs during transfer or in a manner that cannot be contained by secondary containment nearby drains must be protected.

Keep kits handy

There should also be a spill-kit readily available on farms that have fuel and oil storage.

Keep the kits where the greatest threat of an oil spill exists, near fuel receiving and fuel dispensing areas. Store the supplies in an enclosed container or bin that is accessible to all staff. Mark the storage site with a sign reading 'Oil Spill Response Kit.' Check the inventory regularly.

Incidental oil spills most likely occur on farms quite often. An incidental spill is one that is manageable and poses no safety/health danger or harm to environment. It has not entered a sanitary or storm drain, has not entered groundwater or surface water and can be contained or stopped. University of Wisconsin research farm workers from the various farming units have had several opportunities recently to take training and learn about the steps for dealing with an incidental spill. The training is important on all farms.

Eliminate the source of the spill. Prevent oil from entering drains. Spread absorbents over the source of spill. Call Emergency numbers if spill gets worse or cannot be contained.

University farm employee training

Jeff Breuer is the Ag Research Station safety director at Arlington. Among his duties, he is responsible to make sure that the various farms that are a part of the University Research comply with safety rules just like any other farm.

Because of the large quantities of fuel on several of the farms and the number of employees who pump fuel into equipment, he holds regular training sessions at the farm to familiarize farm employees with safety practices and procedures and the safety equipment available on the farms.

During a recent training session, Marissa Trapp, safety training specialist at the University of Wisconsin, said as a part of the Environmental Protection Agency's requirements, any farm with 1320 or more above-ground fuel or oil storage or 42,000 gallons underground storage are required to provide training and follow proper safety procedures.

The rules also apply to storage in 55-gallon barrels but only if the total number of gallons reach the threshold of total on-farm storage.

She says, 'While only the farms with these amounts of storage are legally required to provide the safety precautions and training, if a spill occurs anywhere, even in smaller amounts on smaller farms, it is important to take steps to contain the oil or fuel.'

The majority of the spills occur when a fuel contractor is transferring fuel or when putting fuel into equipment, according to Trapp. Having a spill kit handy in the areas where these things occur can prevent problems.

Farms can make own spill kits

Farms can make up their own spill kits. Place materials in a sealed container and label so it can be easily read in the area where it is most likely to be needed.

Kits include things like granular material to absorb the liquid; blockers to prevent it from running further; spill pads and drain covers and blockers.

During the training session workers practiced with readily available materials. The first thing the workers noticed is that even small amounts of liquids, when spilled, spread out quickly and cover a big area.

Contain the liquid and prevent it from flowing further. Absorb the surface oil with kitty litter or a dry granular material. Cheap, clay kitty litter will absorb recently spilled oil, before it's soaked in too far. Pour on enough to cover the spill completely, beginning on the outside of the spill and working toward the center. Use a shovel to move the material around and soak up as much as possible.

You can also use talc, diatomaceous earth, fly ash, fuller's earth, or a commercial oil-absorbent product. Check the label for health and safety information before using. Some of these materials may be dangerous to inhale.

If you just spilled the oil and don't own any litter, soak up as much as you can with paper towels. Blot the spill with an up-and-down motion.

Dispose of the litter or soaked towels by placing in a double plastic bag inside a pail. Check your local laws to find out how to dispose of this flammable material. Some trash collection services will pick up the container, while others require you to bring it to a landfill or hazardous waste materials site.

Do not try to wash away the litter. Motor oil or fuel can harm plants and pollute storm drains.

Trapp says this method of cleaning up spills can apply to any type of liquid spill on a farm including liquid fertilizers or chemicals.

She points out, 'When there is a spill and you're working to clean it up, put on gloves. You don't know what the liquid might be and it could be toxic.'

In the case of larger spills that cannot be immediately contained, call 911, she stresses.

Fire departments, county emergency management systems and the Department of Natural Resources are equipped to respond quickly and contain the spill to prevent further contamination of soil or water.