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Chemical and Petroleum Spills

The Problem | The Response

Tanker SpillAccidental releases of petroleum, toxic chemicals, gases, and other hazardous materials occur frequently throughout New York State. Even small releases have the potential to endanger public health and contaminate groundwater, surface water, and soils. What is being done about this problem? How can concerned citizens help? The information presented here can answer these and other questions.

The Problem

Every year, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation receives approximately 16,000 reports of confirmed and suspected releases to the environment. Approximately ninety percent of those releases involve petroleum products. The rest involve various hazardous substances, unknown materials, or other materials such as untreated sewage and cooking grease.

Environmental damage from such releases depends on the material spilled and the extent of contamination. Many of these reports are releases of small quantities, typically a few gallons, that are contained and cleaned up quickly with little damage to the environment. In other instances material releases seep through the soil and eventually into the groundwater, which can make water supplies unsafe to drink. Vapors from spilled materials can collect in houses and businesses, creating fire and explosion hazards. Uncontained spills, especially those that impact surface water, can kill or injure plants, fish, and wildlife, and cause damage to their habitats.

The Response

New York State (NYS) responds to reports of petroleum and other hazardous material releases through the Spill Response Program maintained by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC). Spill response staff throughout the State investigate such spill reports and take action based on the type of material spilled, the potential environmental damage, and safety risks to the public.

Both immediate response and continued cleanup vary depending on the type of material spilled and the damage caused. Federal and State law require the spiller, or responsible party, to notify government agencies and to contain, clean up, and dispose of any spilled/contaminated material in order to correct any environmental damage.

NYSDEC Spill Response truckThis may be performed by a qualified contractor hired by the responsible party. Any delay in containing or recovering a release allows contaminants to spread and may result in more extensive damage and more expensive cleanups. DEC can provide additional resources to local agencies during emergencies and will remain involved if continued cleanup of the environment is required. Continued cleanup is the responsibility of the spiller and is required if contamination and environmental damage remain after the initial containment and recovery. Again, this work may be performed by a qualified contractor hired by the responsible party. Continued cleanup may include determining the extent of contamination, selecting a cleanup technology, and completing corrective actions. The DEC will oversee the process to ensure the actions are protective of public safety, health and the environment.

The public can notify DEC of releases to the environment by calling the NYS Spill Hotline. Federal agencies can be notified by calling the National Response Center.

NYS Spill Hotline: 1-800-457-7362
National Response Center: 1-800-424-8802

For further information, contact:

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
Division of Environmental Remediation
Bureau of Technical Support
625 Broadway - 11th Floor
Albany, NY 12233-7020
(518) 402-9543

More about Chemical and Petroleum Spills:

  • Geographic Response Plans (GRPs) - These plans are map-based and are used by first responders during the initial stages of an incident that involves the transportation of oil.
  • Public Record of Underground Storage Tank Releases - New York State's Public Record of underground storage tank (UST) releases includes the number, sources and causes of UST releases along with data on the number of UST equipment failures in the State.
  • USEPA MTBE Pilot Project Report - Methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) was legally used as a gasoline blending component in New York State from 1979 until its statewide ban on January 1, 2004. The expanding use of MTBE in gasoline during that period resulted in significant MTBE impacts to the groundwater resource of Long Island. Better understanding of the scope of the impact is of great importance to the NYSDEC as the Long Island aquifer system is the sole source of drinking water for over 2.7 million residents in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
  • Tips for Keeping Gasoline and Household Chemicals Out of Your Water Supply - Gasoline is one of the most dangerous chemicals you will encounter on a regular basis. Here are some suggestions for keeping your water supply safe.
  • Spill Response & Remediation FAQ - Division of Environmental Remediation FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions on New York's Oil Spill Response & Remediation Program.