Understanding and Applying Secondary Containment

Secondary containment can be confusing.  What is it?  Secondary containment is any system or control measure that is used to stop a discharge from leaving a specified area so that it does not pollute the environment or cause additional harm.  It provides a liquid tight barrier placed under or built around a storage container to prevent the contents from accidental release.   The containment also needs to comply with local, state, and federal regulations.  Hazardous materials must be stored in an area with secondary containment to prevent the possibility of leaks and spills.  Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) have different definitions of what is considered a hazardous material.  So, how do you know what is hazardous?  Basically, if you have a material that has a safety data sheet or is a liquid that could harm a person or the environment, it is considered a hazardous material.  

Leaks and spills from hazardous products can lead to harmful environmental impacts and costly clean-ups.  That’s why it is so important to quickly and thoroughly clean up automotive spills and ensure that the spill does not spread.  Accidental spills and releases of vehicle fluids are common causes of environmental contamination at automotive salvage yards.  Proper fluid storage helps prevent the accidental release of contaminating fluids such as gasoline, antifreeze, transmission fluid, brake fluid, and oil.  Harmful fluids such as these are stored in containers like drums, totes, and tanks, called primary containers.  These containers usually hold their liquid contents without incident, but failures can occur.  Failures can include overfilling, punctures, or tipping over.  If a primary failure occurs, this is where the secondary containment comes in.  The containment system should be able to hold any leaks, spills, container residues, and contaminated precipitation so it does not leak into any sewers, drains, soil, groundwater, lakes or streams. 

Secondary containment can consist of anything from berms to sloped flooring that channels the liquid to safe containment.  Portable spill containment pallets and decks provide immediate containment for drums and totes and provide the flexibility to move your containment as your facility grows or changes.  Poured concrete and cement block structures are two common ways to create custom-sized secondary containment.  These types of berms are more commonly used for outdoor containment because of strength and durability.  Sealing the concrete creates an impervious barrier.  Be sure to carefully evaluate your type of primary container and the storage area to choose the best form of secondary containment. 

Secondary containment must be sufficient to hold the total volume of the largest tank plus any precipitation from storm events.  A good rule of thumb is to have 110% of the volume of the largest storage tank located inside the containment.  If it cannot hold the entire volume, it will not effectively contain the spill.  Secondary containment calculation worksheets can be found on the USEPA website under Oil Spills Prevention and Preparedness Regulations. 

Establishing procedures for proper handling of fluids and having the appropriate equipment helps to minimize spills.  If a facility has a combined storage capacity greater than 1,320 gallons of hazardous liquid, the USEPA requires that the facility comply with Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) regulations by developing and implementing an SPCC Plan.  Even if your facility is not required to have an SPCC plan, secondary containment is considered a best management practice.  The bottom line is to keep spills out of the environment while following OSHA and USEPA guidelines.  If you are unsure of what type of secondary containment you need or if you would like more information on this topic, feel free to call VET at (812) 822-0400.   


Junkyard?  I think not! 

Sara HamidovicComment