Fuel spillages are generally not incidents you want to risk or take lightly, but this is particularly true in the case of diesel fuel. Given the widespread use and availability of diesel, spillages are a common hazard and need to be prevented as much as possible.
However, when a diesel spillage does occur sooner or later, responding swiftly and wisely is key. There are good reasons that these spillages need to be treated quickly, and why they present such a problem when they happen.
Is spilled diesel fuel a problem?
Liquid diesel is a dangerous contaminant when spilled onto land, and it can’t simply be left and ignored. Like many industrial chemicals, diesel can contaminate water, poison plants and animals, and present a health hazard to people in the vicinity.
Even short-term exposure to diesel can irritate the body and cause health issues, but chronic (long-term and repeated) exposure has been linked to skin conditions and cancer.
In 2020, Highways England stressed the importance of preventing diesel spills after 314 spillages were recorded in 2018 as a result of HGV traffic incidents. Just a couple of hours on a road surface allows diesel fuel to cause structural damage, and open drains present a risk of the fuel entering waterways.
On top of the environmental and health risks, spillages can incur hundreds of thousands in costs.
Despite the frequency of diesel spillages on roads, spills can happen on industrial sites, in construction zones, and anywhere in which a diesel fuel tank is present.
What to do when a diesel spill occurs
Like in cases of oil spills, response to a diesel spill should first aim to contain the spillage and prevent it from spreading further.
This involves the use of absorbent pads to soak fuel up from a surface or out of the soil. Booms should be used to contain the area of the spill as best as possible, or to protect nearby drains and waterways from the encroaching spill.
Using absorbents to contain and halt the progress of the spill is the best first step to take in the presence of a diesel spill, and helps to contain the extent of the damage while you await a site clearance specialist.
Ultimately, spilled diesel fuel needs to be contained and handled by qualified professionals who will be able to respond with the right tools and personal protective equipment (PPE).
Trying to handle diesel fuel without the right knowledge and equipment is hazardous to health and can do far more harm than good.
Once any available absorbent material has been laid down, it’s best to avoid contact with the fuel. If any present individuals have already come into contact with the spill, dispose of contaminated clothing and wash any traces of diesel off the skin as thoroughly as possible.
Best practice in diesel spillage
Best practice with fuel spills always begins with prevention and awareness. When dealing with diesel fuel, be careful not to overfill tanks and ensure that caps are secure and fully tightened. Don’t fill tanks with damaged or missing caps, nor tanks with visible corrosion and damage.
Keeping an on-site spill kit can prevent the worst from happening while you wait for a team to arrive and deal with the contaminated land. They contain PPE, booms, absorbent pads, and other supplies to help contain the extent of small-scale spillages.
One of the greatest risks presented by spilled diesel fuel is that of it entering water ways where the extent of its contamination can spread much further.
Identify any drains, open waterways, pipes, and other areas that could present possible ways for the diesel to get into water.
Additionally, sources of ignition should be kept away from the spills. Flames, sparks, and sources of heat risk igniting the fuel and causing fires or explosions, even if the fuel appears to have mostly soaked into the ground.
If the diesel is still in the process of leaking from its tank as containment is taking place, an appropriate container should be used to try and catch the fuel and prevent more of it entering the area.
If the presence of fumes in the air is overwhelming, causing dizziness and headaches, nausea, and any other adverse health effects, then it’s best to leave the area until the professionals can take over.
Who should I contact in the event of a diesel spill?
Spill kits are good, but they’re no replacement for a qualified and experienced expert in land remediation.
Diesel spillages can have much further-reaching problems than it first appears, and extensive clean up should always be handled by those who are equipped with the right tools and knowledge.
This is necessary not only to protect human and animal health, but also to protect the environment and ensure human error doesn’t end up causing irreversible damage to the ecosystem.
Those responsible for diesel spillages have a moral duty to ensure they get addressed and cleaned up properly.
If you’ve suffered a spill of diesel fuel, contact a qualified clean up professional immediately. DHI Excavations are experts in land remediation and the treatment of contaminated soil. We can assess the site and give you a comprehensive report of what needs to be done to contain and solve the problem.
We work not only in the containment of spillages, but also finding ways to recycle materials wherever we can and ensure that accidents don’t need to result in piles of unusable waste.
To learn more about our services and find out how we can help your site, contact us today.