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What are Fugitive Emissions?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
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  • Last Modified Date: 01 September 2016
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Fugitive emissions are emissions which are released through events such as leaks, spills, and evaporation. Historically, they were often not tracked, with emissions detection and monitoring focusing on emissions generated during combustion. Today, a number of governments have plans in place to monitor and manage fugitive emissions, and a number have identified specific areas which need improvement with the goal of reducing overall emissions.

A number of problems can be presented with fugitive emissions. One of the most obvious is pollution. Since fugitive emissions are often released in settings which lack filters and other controls, harmful pollutants are freely released into the air. These pollutants can threaten human or environmental health, and contribute to the degradation of the Earth's atmosphere. Some fugitive emissions have also been fingered in global warming, making them an interest for international groups which are concerned about climate change.

Additionally, the loss of substances through fugitive emissions can create a financial loss. While a single small leak or spill might not seem like a problem, when this is replicated across a country, it actually represents a substantial financial loss. When materials like fuels are lost before they are burned through leaks and evaporation, people are not getting the value out of the fuel. For large companies which handle fuel, loss of fuel before delivery through fugitive emissions can be very costly over time.

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Another issue with these types of emissions is immediate threats to human health and safety. Fugitive emissions of dangerous toxins or flammable gases can endanger people in the area who may get sick if they inhale them, and they can also pose a fire risk. They can also endanger communities if they occur over an extended period of time. For example, neighborhoods around fuel depots and shipyards may have dangerous levels of fuels in the air and soil due to fugitive emissions in the neighboring facilities.

There are a number of techniques which can be used to identify, manage, and control fugitive emissions in the interest of health and safety. Leak detectors are useful for identifying them when they happen, while better seals, regular inspections for leaks, and different handling practices can reduce the volume of materials released. For example, many gas stations use vapor trapping nozzles on their pumps so that gasoline fumes are not released into the environment while people pump gas. This reduces environmental problems, lowers the risk of fire, and keeps odor down.

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Discuss this Article

JimmyT
Post 3

Is there a certain agency that is responsible for monitoring fugitive emissions? In the United States, I would assume it is the EPA, but is that the only organization? What about in other countries and worldwide?

I'm also curious how they choose what to monitor and how they do it. It seems like it would be in the best interest of most companies to fix their leaks, since they are losing money. In some cases, though, the fix may be more expensive than the product.

I doubt that other countries have rules that are as strict as in the US, so maybe there should be a push toward encouraging other countries to monitor fugitive air emissions if there isn't already.

stl156
Post 2

@titans62 - I think it can include anything that is potentially harmful to humans or the environment. I think the emission of carbon compounds is getting a lot of the attention now.

I found this article after reading about the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India. In that case, there was a pesticide plant that developed a leak, and thousands of people were exposed to deadly gasses. It was one of the main events that lead to better monitoring of plant and factory safety measures.

In the case of Union Carbide, though, the emissions came suddenly. I'm not sure if that qualifies as fugitive emissions, or if fugitive emissions are gradual releases.

titans62
Post 1

This article mentions the emission of fuel, and I assume that is one of the main products that is lost due to leaks. What are some of the others?

In the case of gas, I would assume most of the fugitive emissions come from vapor escaping even though the product is primarily a liquid. Is this true for most of the other substances?

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