Spill Containment vs Secondary Containment

If you don’t have secondary containment, you need spill containment. If you do have secondary containment, you furthermore need spill containment.
To understand the role of each type of containment and why you should have both, read on.

Spill Containment
The act of obstructing a spill is spill containment. When there’s a spill, your number one priority — after addressing safety concerns — is to prevent it from spreading. The sooner you contain the spill, the smaller the area that is affected. And that means less time spent cleaning up the spill.

The most important thing to remember is that spill containment is part of the spill response. Spill response procedures often contain different types of spill containment to address multiple types of spills, including absorbent non-absorbent dikes, socks, and booms, or even drainage sumps created to collect spilled liquids. For example, spill containment for a ten-gallon oil spill in a warehouse with no floor drains might call for absorbent mats and a few socks, but spill containment for a 30,000-gallon fuel spill traveling toward a nearby river is going to take a full stockpile of absorbents, booms, and sumps to control it.

Secondary Containment
Drums, totes, and tanks are examples of primary containers. These containers normally retain their liquid contents without incident. But if they contain a hazardous material, and because they can potentially fail, the EPA requires them to have secondary containment.

The EPA doesn’t specify specifically what secondary containment must look like, but they are definite about what it needs to do: If the primary container fails, the secondary containment structure or device must be able to hold the entire volume that could spill until it can be cleaned up.

That means that secondary containment can be anything from spill pallets or decks to a sloped room that allows the liquid to accumulate at one end until it can be cleaned up. It could be dikes, berms or concrete walls that create a moat around the primary container. In some cases, it can even be absorbents. It’s up to you to evaluate your circumstances and choose the best resolutions for your needs.

Why You Should Have Both
Even super-sturdy secondary containment systems can fail and cause a spill, so the EPA requires you to be prepared for spills with appropriate spill containment — even if every container at your facility has secondary containment. That’s why, when people ask us if they need spill containment or secondary containment, our answer is always, “Yes!”

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