A Green Paper on SUDS and the Danger of Land Contamination from Spills and Firewater January 2011 Eil/wp/LandcontaminatW-01.2011/01
SUDS and the Danger of Land Contamination from Spills and Firewater Sadly, polluted streams and rivers are daily news stories, however, the sudden or gradual contamination of land seldom makes the headlines. Scandalously, according to a recent string of surveys, very few people seem to be aware of the risks and obligations that their business has under the various Environmental Directives with respect to protecting the environment from uncontrolled spills or leaks of oils, chemicals and firewater. Even fewer had any idea as to the long-term environmental and financial damage that can result from spills or leaks seeping/entering the actual soil. If you pardon the pun, the deeper you dig, the worse the story gets. Many people you speak to, especially farmers, readily admit off the record that they have in the past buried the odd leaking barrel of chemicals, the carcasses of dead animals, contaminated soil or demolition waste on their land etc, with little thought of the long term consequences. Under the new Civil Sanctions and the Environmental Liability Directive (ELD (2004/35/EC) the polluter pays principle applies. As we have all recently witnessed with the United States regulations following the Deep Water Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, remediation and compensation costs can dwarf the fines and can be financially devastating even to the largest of businesses. The European laws are exactly the same, simply there is no cap and no escape with the ELD. Also be warned, the Directive clearly states in one of its opening paragraphs that ignorance is no defence. Directors and owners of polluting businesses can also be ultimately made personally liable and can even be jailed. Finally, the liability will follow you and your business, with apparently no time limit should you decide to vacate the site and leave the pollution behind. Findings that form part of a comprehensive report we are currently compiling, backed up with direct across the table discussions with the Environment Agency that took place this month (January 2011), demonstrate clearly that ignorance is rife across industry. A drastic education programme is required at all levels, across virtually every sector and that even includes environmental consultants and bodies conducting ISO14001 audits. This is especially most evident when you consider the increased risks that have arisen since the introduction of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems). We can testify that, from the recent planning application for the construction of our new offices and research facility Local Authorities insisted upon the installation of SUDS drainage.
However, their notes made no mention of pollution risks, other than suggesting that a small oil interceptor may be a good idea to collect the roadway runoff. For readers who are not familiar with SUDS, the idea is that rain that falls on your site should no longer be directed to the public sewers, streams or rivers, but rather dissipated within the land of the site via soakaways. By using soakaways the natural rainwater cycle is restored, with its inherent time delays, substantially reducing the risk of flash floods and sewer spills from storm overloads. That was the positive side of the story, now for the negative. Just imagine the situation where you have a major spill or fire on your site where you have just installed a 200 cubic meter soakaway for SUDS. Those of you that turn around and say, “but we have a spill kit”, should think again! Have you really considered the probability of being able to cope with a major spill of something soluble that will pass clean through your oil interceptor (if you have one) or, worse still, the runoff from a fire, referred to in the industry as firewater? Firewater inevitably contains a cocktail of substances. This can include released materials and chemicals that were stored in the building, fire fighting foam (PFOS), as well as dissolved and particulate materials formed from the combustion process itself. Firewater can be particularly polluting when the building or site contains materials like pesticides, chemicals, plastics, foams, oils and detergents. However, any type of building has the potential to produce toxic materials in the event of a fire. Parcel warehouses for example are considered to be a particularly high risk. Packed with boxes, the contents of which are generally unknown means that the resultant cocktail could contain virtually anything, which ultimately the site owner/operator will be liable for. The Fire Services estimate that they use approximately 500,000 litres of water per hour to fight an average fire. If unabated this could simply pass straight through a drainage system into the SUDS soakaway, creating a second and potentially even more expensive disaster. And before you ask, it is the site ownerʼs responsibility to identify the risk and to contain the firewater, not the Fire Service, their job first and foremost is to save lives, extinguish the fire safely and finally to consider pollution. Ultimately this may mean that if you donʼt have adequate firewater containment they may decide quite rightly not to extinguish the fire but to let it burn out – something they call a controlled burn. You end up with a pile of ashes if you are lucky! Under the Environment Agency guidelines the fitting of an oil interceptor is recommended to SUDS soakaways. However, oil interceptors have a finite capacity, must be regularly serviced and will not stop soluble pollutants such as firewater.
With soil contamination fines, clean up costs regularly reaching seven figures, plus the massive devaluation of land value that follows, plus the on-going cost of continuous monitoring for perhaps 20 years and the insurance blight, businesses need to urgently reassess their risks associated with uncontrolled spills of all types, just in the same way as they would for their IT system as both affect business continuity. Simply speak to most insurance underwriters and they will clearly state that easily identifiable risks that have not been adequately mitigated are not covered. Certainly the facts speak for themselves as you donʼt need to be a CHOMA site to create a pollution incident. The EA acknowledge that over 75% of the major pollution incidents in the UK come from non-regulated sites. Following is a simple 3-point checklist that should help you identify if your business is at risk. If not already, it should become a key part of your EMS and certainly should be included in any ISO14001 audit. Put simply, if you answer YES or are in any doubt to any one or more of the following questions, your business may be at risk and you should seek professional advice from the Environment Agency for businesses located in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, SEPA for Scotland or a If you have answered yes to any of the above then you should consider one of the following mitigation techniques, which are presented in no particular order of preference and are recommended by the Environment Agency and SEPA in their publication PPG18. a) Install full containment oil interceptors – this can be expensive as it means that all rainwater is trapped on site and has to be removed by tanker. This may have a negative impact on your businessʼ carbon footprint. b) Install a bund wall around the site – this can be impractical if the site is not level and has porous surfaces. Similarly to the full retention interceptor, rainwater has to be removed using bund pumps, passed through an oil separator and filters before entering the drainage system. c) Utilise the siteʼs drainage system converted into an emergency pollution vessel and fitted with an automatic pollution control / containment valve. To be effective however this valve needs to be fully automated to give round the clock 24/7 protection.
Fig 1: Protection of SUDS system using a Pollution Control Valve
A decision matrix highlighting the various considerations associated with the three techniques is given below in Table 1
Full Site Bunding
In Drain Containment
Interceptor £££ Medium / High
Require bund pump/s
Annual inspection and monthly
and filter systems
Running cost emptying plus annual
leak testing Pre-Installation Soil stability test. Soil Porosity mapping of site Survey
required. Site levels,
site levels, falls and falls and flow directions flow directions survey
Drain volume needs to be measured and drain checked for leaks.
Interceptor capacity Wall heights must be set The drain capacity must exceed must scaled to hold to allow for 110% of the
110% of the theoretical
both rainwater and theoretical firewater /spill firewater / spill level. This can be firewater/ spill level.
increased by deliberately including surface areas that are
Drains and bund pumps allowed to pond. The fire service need to be closed off
can be provided with access
during an incident.
points from which they can recycle firewater from within drains to quench the fire.
Table 1: Decision Matrix for Spill and Firewater Containment
Conclusion: The land occupied by a large number of businesses is currently at risk from contamination through spills and firewater entering through their SUDS drainage systems. Oil interceptors, if fitted, are seldom adequate as they will not contain anything other than oil and have a finite capacity. Interceptors certainly cannot stop spills of water soluble chemicals, bio-diesel, cleaning products such as detergents, denser than water liquids or firewater. The risk of pollution and subsequent land contamination via SUDS is real and, if unmitigated provision should be made on balance sheets for the potential consequential financial losses. SUDS associated pollution risks should be assessed alongside those associated with all the other drainage systems on your site including those that enter the public sewer. Collectively these risks need to be included within your businesses EMS and the mitigation techniques and practices you install assessed in subsequent ISO14001 audits. The fitting of automated in-line pollution control valves within the drainage system at face value seems to offer most businesses a cost effective way of containing the risk with minimum disruption to the site始s operations and is worthy of further investigation.
GROUND CONTAMINATION Polluted streams and rivers make the headlines every day, ground contamination on the other hand gets far less publicity and yet is at least as destructive to the environment. Scandalously many companies pay very little attention to spills which go directly into the soil because the visible effects and traceable responsibility are far less obvious than a local river turning red. However, this very fact makes ground contamination literally a deeper problem as the damage often takes years or decades to be discovered, and of course the pollution will eventually find itʼs way into those same watercourses and rivers. Under the Polluter Pays Principle at the heart of the new Environmental Liability Directive (ELD (2004/35/EC) remediation costs can run into millions. Ignorance is no defence when it comes to environmental liability but there is no doubt that ignorance is almost certainly the biggest single factor in most pollution incidents and something which raises the risk of catastrophic accidents. These risks are by no means limited to the chemical industry as many mistakenly believe, the Environment Agency (EA) estimate that 75% of pollution incidents come from non-regulated industries. Any site which has deliveries by lorry is at risk of a spill, and the dusty half-stocked Spill Kit is often the only defence these ʻlow riskʼ sites have against an accident. Something which the EA considers a major environmental hazard, is the deadly cocktail known as Firewater, and yet 93% of senior Managers and site owners in a recent survey hadnʼt even heard of it. Firewater is the run-off from fighting a blaze which contains materials stored in the building, as well as dissolved and particulate materials formed from the combustion process itself, and those generated through the quenching process. Firewater can be particularly polluting when the building or site being extinguished contains materials like pesticides, chemicals and detergents. However, any type of building has the potential to produce toxic materials in the event of a fire. Parcel warehouses for example are packed with boxes, the contents of which are unknown to the site owner, who will be ultimately financially liable for any resulting Firewater pollution. The Fire Service estimate that they use approximately 500,000 litres of water per hour to fight an average fire, without adequate in-drain containment that toxic material will quickly find itʼs way into land and local watercourses. Another consequence of inadequate containment is that it is often considered less harmful to allow a building to burn down than risk contaminating the environment with Firewater run-off.
In May 2003 a large fire at a relatively small chemicals packing company in East Yorkshire led to serious pollution when contaminated Firewater polluted the water, and surrounding banks of two local water courses. The EA fined them, and although the companies insurers covered part of the claim, they refused to cover the claim for the clean-up costs which were around £600,000. Land pollution can often be more destructive and much harder to contain and clean-up than spills which make their way to local rivers by a more direct route. A spill at an underground petrol container back in 2001 has cost BP millions to try and clear, and 9 years after the accident they have only just ʻalmost completed phase oneʼ of the clean-up operation. Something which may well shock is that the bill for cleaning-up contaminated land, isnʼt always the sole responsibility of the original polluter. A UK property developer faces a multi-million pound bill to clean-up pollution found at an exchemical site it purchased, redeveloped and sold back in the 1980ʼs, despite the fact that it didnʼt cause the original contamination and adhered to the relevant laws during itʼs time of ownership. It took 15 years for the full scale of the pollution to be discovered, a perfect example of the devastating legacy and long-term consequences of land pollution. In a great many cases flood water is the unpredictable component which triggers the worst levels of contamination to land and water. The rule-book is often discarded in times of flooding and decisions are made to sacrifice one area of land in preference to another. Subsequently the option to discharge to foul sewers or catchment ponds is often taken out of the control of a site owner in times of heavy rain. The severe floods of June 2007 was the result of surface water flooding and led to a number of recommendations including the greater implementation of SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems). SUDS are a way of trying to mimic natural drainage and manage water above-ground with the characteristics of storage and slowing down flows of water into sewers and water courses as well as improving water quality and amenity. However, if installed incorrectly or without a comprehensive understanding of the overall infrastructure of drainage they can actually aggravate and exacerbate the situation and in many cases just pass the pollution further up the chain to become someone else's problem. Itʼs vital to remember that pollutant material has to go somewhere, and the very nature of liquid is that it will seep itʼs way indiscriminately into land, drains and watercourses. As with all issues of environmental pollution, it all comes back to controlling the source of the problem, making prevention
better than cure. For example, Itʼs much easier to educate people not to throw used batteries and plastic carrier bags into their general rubbish than it is to implement sorting and recycling at the land-fill site. Taking responsibility on a community level is essential if we are to break the cycle of pollute and clean-up. Effective in-drain containment that blocks the outflow from a site, coupled with an educated approach to risk and site safety is essential. Out of site out of mind and a fingers crossed attitude is building a legacy of problems which could be catastrophic for future generations.
CASE STUDIES UK Developer faces a multi-million pound clean-up bill for a site sold in 1987 A developer faces a multi-million pound bill to clean pollution found at a site it bought, redeveloped and sold in the 1980s even though it did not cause the original contamination and it had complied with all relevant laws during its ownership. http://www.mcgrigors.com/e-bulletin/real_estate/eb_10_may10.html
Contamianted Land to be Developed - Clean-up May be £1m A proposal has been put forward to build on extensively contaminated land, even though it could cost more than £1million to clean it up. The developer involved has agreed to clear up the site before building the homes and shops on it after a report that they carried out stated that the site was extensively contaminated. It is though that it will need £1million spent clearing the contamination but due to it being very deep and depending on how deep it actually is, the figure could be higher. http://www.stockmarketsreview.com/realestate/2011/01/22/contaminatedland-at-burry-port-harbour-to-be-developed/
IS YOUR SITE RIGHT? Use this Environment Agency 10-point checklist to help you make sure Storing and handling oils, chemicals and other risky materials 1. Are storage containers fit for purpose, regularly inspected and maintained? 2. Are storage areas and containers sited away from watercourses, drains and unsurfaced areas? 3. Do storage containers have secondary containment, such as a bund, to contain any leaks or spills? 4. Do you have procedures and training for safe delivery and handling of materials? Waste management 5. Is your storage and handling of waste safe and does it comply with the law? 6. Do you know where your waste goes? Are you sure itâ€™s disposed of correctly? 7. Are you reducing and recycling your waste? Do it and save money. Site Drainage 8. Do you have an up to date drainage plan of your site? 9. Is your site drained correctly? â€˘ only clean water, such as roof drainage, to surface water drains.
• all contaminated water, such as sewage and trade effluent, to foul drain. Dealing with pollution emergencies 10. Do you have a plan, equipment and training to deal with pollution emergencies? If you answered ‘no’ to any question, or are unsure, use the Environment Agency’s “Pollution Prevention Pays – getting your site right” guidance available from their website or call us for advice 0800 731 9313
FURTHER ESSENTIAL READING The Full DEFRA Guidance on the New Environmental Civil Sanctions : The EA intends to start to use these new powers on 4th January 2011. “http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/policy/enforcement/pdf/defra-wagguidance.pdf”
PPG7 : Refuelling Facilities : Advice on how to protect the environment through the safe delivery, storage and dispensing of fuels. h t t p : / / p u b l i c a t i o n s . e n v i r o n m e n t - a g e n c y. g o v. u k / e p a g e s / eapublications.storefront
PPG18 Managing Fire Water and Major Spillages These guidance notes have been drawn up to assist in the identification of the equipment and techniques available to prevent and mitigate damage to the water environment caused by fires and major spillages. Download full Guidance at “http://publications.environment-agency.gov.uk/pdf/PMHO600BBUD-e-e.pdf”
PPG21 : Pollution - Incident Response : Good practice guidance to produce incident response plans for dealing with accidents, spillages and fires, to help protect the environment. h t t p : / / p u b l i c a t i o n s . e n v i r o n m e n t - a g e n c y. g o v. u k / e p a g e s / eapublications.storefront
PPG22 : Incident Response – Dealing with Spills : Advice on how to deal with spillages to avoid pollution. h t t p : / / p u b l i c a t i o n s . e n v i r o n m e n t - a g e n c y. g o v. u k / e p a g e s / eapublications.storefront
PPG26 : Safe Storage Drums and Intermediate Bulk Containers : The regulations apply to: tanks (can be permanent or temporary); drums greater than 200 litres capacity; intermediate bulk containers (IBCs); mobile bowsers. All above PPGs are available for download at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/business/topics/pollution/39083.aspx
ENVIRONMENTAL LIABILITY DIRECTIVE 2004/35/EC : The Directive establishes a strong framework for environmental liability based on the "polluter pays" principle, with a view to preventing and remedying damage to animals, plants, natural habitats and water resources, and damage affecting the land. Where the polluter is at fault or negligent powers exist to ensure that the costs as well as any fines are allocated, in extreme cases prison sentences can be enforced. Download full Directive www.europa.eu
PPG28 Controlled Burn This guidance will help you decide when and how to use a controlled burn as part of a fire fighting strategy to prevent or reduce damage to the environment. You should consider this guidance on a site by site basis when developing an incident response plan for your site. Download full Guidance at “http://publications.environment-agency.gov.uk/pdf/PMHO1005BJIT-e-e.pdf”
Fire Service Manual This Fire and Rescue Manual is the first manual within the Fire Service Operations series dedicated to the protection of the environment. This publication provides information and guidance designed to support firefighters, Fire Brigade Service managers, and trainers in their work at operational incidents, training events, and during day-to-day activities. Download full manual here “http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/fire/environmentprotectvol2”
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