What is Spill Containment?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 26 November 2019
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Spill containment is a process that makes it possible to confine materials within a limited area when some sort of spill or overflow has taken place. This type of containment is relatively common when dealing with sewage, chemicals, or oils and is considered a safety measure that helps to minimize the impact of the spill on the environment. A variety of methods are used in the process of spill containment, depending on the nature of the material that must be contained and the potential of that material to negatively impact the environment if it were allowed to seep into ground water or nearby rivers.

In some cases, provisions for spill containment are part of the ongoing processing of different types of materials. For example, a containment system may be an essential component in the sewage system of a municipality. In this instance, containment areas are built into the system, making it possible to continue processing waste even in the event of excessive rain that threatens to block sewers and place additional stress on the water processing plants in operation throughout the system. Overflow channels make it possible to contain the sewage until it can be processed, rather than allowing the material to be introduced into local bodies of water or seep into the ground, events that would ultimately have a negative impact on the local ecological balance.


Emergency spill containment equipment is also common with the handling of many types of materials. For example, inflatable containment units may be quickly put into position in the event that a tank or other storage device containing oil products should rupture. The containment units provide a means of collecting the product as it escapes from the ruptured tank, effectively preventing the oil from coming into contact with the ground or local bodies of water. In this scenario, the use of the emergency spill containment units not only helps to protect the environment, but also makes the collection of the product easier to manage during the cleanup phase.

Over the years, the strategies used in spill containment have grown increasingly sophisticated. Many of the methods used today do not require human intervention in order to initiate a containment effort. For example, a number of sewage systems are constantly monitored by computer technology that is programmed to respond when levels in sewage ducts reach a certain level, allowing the process of containment to begin even as the system notifies humans charged with monitoring the overall operation. Thanks to these innovations, the ability to quickly and successfully contain railroad spills, oil spills, and spills involving hazardous chemicals is greater than at any time in the past.


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