By Patricia Paruch

The oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico and the Kalamazoo area demonstrate the catastrophic effects of accidental spills of hazardous and other regulated substances. Even the best-designed safety plans can go awry through human error and/or equipment failure. All businesses that handle, store, transport or use regulated substances in their operation should be aware that state and federal penalties for damage to the environment from a spill can threaten the businesses’ bottom line.

Careful planning and diligent maintenance of all spill prevention plans is a must to avoid a mini-economic and environmental disaster. Federal and/or state laws and regulations require businesses to prepare spill prevention plans and file them with the regulatory agency in charge of enforcement.

For example, manufacturers that store finished, waste or raw materials outdoors and that discharge storm water into sewers, ditches, or another storm water collection system must obtain a storm water discharge permit. All permit holders must prepare a Storm Water Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP). The plan must be completed by a certified on-site operator, and notice of the completed plan must be filed with the appropriate Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment – Storm Water Quality Division (MDNRE-SWQD) district office. The SWPPP must be kept on site, reviewed annually, and amended whenever changes occur to the operation.

If a release of hazardous substances enters the storm water system (such as from a leaking drum or other container, a release from a tanker truck, or other spill), the owner or operator of the facility must immediately report the spill to the MDNRE-SWQD district supervisor. Local municipal ordinances may have additional reporting requirements.

State and federal laws pertaining to spill prevention plans vary depending upon the activity. Different spill prevention and reporting regulations exist for “extremely hazardous substances,” transport vessels, underground and aboveground storage tanks, fertilizers and pesticides, toxic or hazardous air pollutants, oil and other petroleum products, oil and gas wells, liquid industrial waste, medical waste, and numerous other categories of regulated activities and substances. Keeping track of all of the regulations can be daunting. The 2010 “Michigan Guide to Environmental, Health and Safety Regulations” is a joint publication of MDNRE and the Michigan Departments of Labor and Economic Growth. The Guide is an excellent compilation of all relevant regulations for each operation and business activity. The free Guide is available on all of the Department websites. Hard copies can also be purchased from the Michigan e-store.

Our office has helped a number of businesses with spill prevention, response, and reporting issues. If these issues affect you, we would be glad to assist.

For further information regarding these matters, please contact Ms. Paruch at 248.740.5672 or via email.