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What a hurricane hitting the oil slick means for restorers

July 06, 2010
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By Jeff Cross, senior editor
LATHAM, NY — Cleaners and restorers across the United States have been discussing the possibility — and some say likelihood — of a hurricane hitting the growing oil slick in the Gulf.

While most news reports concentrate on the cleanup efforts from the BP oil well explosion and the resulting oil slick and contamination to coastal regions, there are growing concerns about the toxic nature of crude oil and what could happen if hurricane-driven winds and waves move it ashore.

As seen with Hurricane Katrina, on-shore damage can reach miles inland, and if a hurricane hits the oil slick close to shore, untold and difficult-to-estimate damages can occur. Even oil miles out to sea can be driven onto land.

“Crude oil is not the same as the fuel oil spills we typically clean up in the Northeast,” said Tracy Bachtell, senior vice president of development for Paul Davis Restoration. “And when you combine it with sea water, it gets more complex.”

It seems there aren’t many sources of information on how to handle a disaster of this magnitude.

“Every insurance company is trying to learn more about this subject as the hurricane season is upon us,” Bachtell said. ““We do hope that the federal agencies involved in these cleanups move quickly to establish any new protocols they want followed because potentially, thousands of properties could be affected and delays will be costly.”

Bachtell said that contacting the EPA and any local government agencies about qualifications and guidelines for cleanup efforts should be considered.

Not only could toxic oil residue make its way onto land and onto buildings, structures and vegetation, there will be an environmental impact on waterways.

The types of surfaces that the oil can land on are endless… each type of surface may require various cleaning methods and cleaning chemicals. Finding an effective cleaning process may be a huge learning experience for many in the industry.

Chemical considerations

A company training document provided by Bachtell outlines some chemical concerns with a possible oil slick contamination on land.

Some of this oil has been partially emulsified by cleanup efforts in the Gulf, the document mentioned, making the breaking up of the oil and water emulsion more difficult should the oil hit land.

In addition, because the oil is not refined, but crude, more aggressive cleaning chemicals than typically used in restoration efforts may be needed. This can pose a larger health and disposal risk than normal.

Personal protection equipment (PPE) concerns should be addressed, and many companies may need to increase their PPE levels for both skin and eye contact, as well as respiratory protection.

Editor’s note: As more information is obtained, Cleanfax magazine will make these available. If you are a cleaner or restorer with information that could aid in oil contamination cleanup efforts, please contact Jeff Cross, senior editor, at jcross@ntpmedia.com.

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