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    Toxic spill response protocols

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    THE PROBLEM: There has been a warehouse fire and the warehouse, located in rural area, contained 6 million kg of agricultural chemicals. The warehouse had a "secret" floor drain that was piped with a 20 cm pipe to small lagoon. The lagoon is located so that the overflow water from the lagoon conveniently flows to the highway ditch and that slopes down for 0.8 km to a creek. The ditch connects with the creek about 10 km above where the creek joins a major river. A huge amount of water was used to fight this fire and it was pumped from the creek. Some of the water sprayed on the fire was channeled via the floor drain in the warehouse to and 20 cm pipe to a lagoon, and from the lagoon the water flowed into the ditch and subsequently into the creek. In the dark of night, black sooty smoke and excitement of the fire fighting effort, no one notices that dirty foamy water was flowing from the lagoon into the ditch and down the ditch to the creek. Upon discovery, the local fire chief called the Dept of Environment and dispatched a bulldozer to dam the creek about 4 km from the river, dam the roadside ditch and increase the sides of the lagoon. Because the soil was disturbed around the lagoon, its wall broke and the water rushed into the ditch. However, the ditch dam held. The bulldozer operator was ordered to construct another dam because the demise of the first ditch dam was eminent. A small "dugout" was constructed beside the lagoon and the lagoon drained into the lagoon. It was noted that the "dugout" was filling with water before it started receiving water from the lagoon. In the phone call you were informed that the creek water was backing up fast and will wash out the temporary dam. Rain was not in the short-term weather forecast that the pilot obtained during the flight.

    The assignment requires me to anticipate how various organizations would be involved in attacking the situation. I have contacted a few rural areas to discuss their emergency plans. Yet I am having difficulty in piecing together the puzzle. For example, how would the fire dept., law enforcement, toxicologists, regional environmental organizations, and the warehouse it-self, be involved- what other organizations am I forgetting? How would they each participate in remedying the incident?

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    Solution Preview

    OK...this one does get complicated as some interactions will be determined by the chemical types as well as the region you are in. For starters, the Fire Dept is probably in a most minor role except for the initial response. Certainly in the night-time scenario described the FD could not be assessed liable for the consequences of the "secret drain". They would certainly be the ones to initially clean up things like public roadways, etc. but after night 1, they are effectively out of the picture.

    Local police, very much the same, unless the chemicals in question are so hazardous as to declare the zone a public hazard, then they would be the ones to limit access to the site. Also, police would of course be involved in the instance of criminal activity (like who ordered ...

    Solution Summary

    This solution examines a hypothetical spill response scenario with respect to roles of responders, agencies, etc.