Environmental Emergency Response

Uploaded by MissouriDNR on 02.02.2010

Early in the afternoon of June 24, 2005, the 24-hour hotline in the Missouri Department
of Natural Resources’ Environmental Emergency Response incident command center rang to life.
The day’s duty officer answered and calmly took down the details.
In St. Louis, at Praxair’s gas distribution Plant, tanks containing the welding gas acetylene
caught on fire. Within moments, rapidfire explosions shook the area. Spectacular fireballs
sailed skyward. Flaming fragments of gas cylinders flew blocks away. Firefighters and police
evacuated a wide area around the plant. The Environmental Emergency Response unit
responded to the scene. Filler materials in some of the cylinders
held an asbestos-containing compound. The blasts had spread an unknown amount of the
material over the area. “Our initial concerns were the release of
gases and water containing contaminated runoff, but when we heard about the asbestos, I knew
we were in for a much longer cleanup.” The department worked with dedicated emergency
personnel to cleanup the area and protect the safety of residents.
The names, places and details change, but variations on this scene repeat every day.
On average, the Environmental Emergency Response 24-hour “spill line” takes more than 1,500
calls and responds to nearly 450 hazardous substance emergencies each year.
Response trucks are located at the department’s regional offices in Kansas City, Macon, Poplar
Bluff, St. Louis and Springfield and at the headquarters in Jefferson City.
“Our mission has historically revolved around managing emergencies related to hazardous
materials, but as additional needs have arisen, our role has expanded. Our work also involves
Homeland Security, local, state, and federal emergency planning and coordinating department
response to disasters.” The department began responding to chemical
and petroleum spills in the mid-1970s. Responses back then were mainly petroleum releases affecting
waterways. By the late-1970s, the department was also responding to incidents related to
air pollution, solid waste and hazardous waste. The Environmental Services Program took on
the role of staffing and responding to spills. “The Spill Bill is the backbone of our authority
to provide emergency assistance.”
In 1983, hazardous waste management legislation referred to as the “Spill Bill” gave the
program authority to operate a hotline, initiate cleanups and provide cleanup oversight for
chemical releases. In 1997, responding to a growing crisis of
methamphetamine incidents, a unit was created to deal with hazardous waste issues related
to meth labs. Chemicals and debris associated with meth production created special challenges
for law enforcement agencies. “To work on those problems the department
helped form the Missouri Methamphetamine Enforcement and Environmental Protection Task Force. The
partnership has since become a national model for protecting law enforcement and the environment.
The unit provides training and specialized equipment at no cost to law
enforcement, and coordinates the Clandestine Drug Lab Collection Station program, providing
technical and financial assistance to local fire and law enforcement agencies operating
17 collection stations statewide.” In addition to being summoned in emergencies,
staff and their specialized equipment are increasingly called upon to journey statewide
to gather samples and detect problems at waterways, illegal dumps and hazardous waste sites.
Skilled workers operate instruments like ground penetrating radar, a robotic camera system
and portable gas chromatographs to locate and identify all kinds of suspected or potential
chemical hazards. Using such advanced field equipment complements
chemical analysis performed in the state’s Environmental Laboratory, a facility in Jefferson
City also operated by the Environmental Services Program. Field-sampling work must be backed
up by quality assured scientific testing possible only in a controlled laboratory environment.
Developing good working relationships with emergency personnel is crucial to the success
of the department’s environmental response efforts.
Advanced training educates firefighters and law enforcement about the services available
from the department. It helps these diverse agencies work together, communicate and respond
quickly when emergencies affect Missouri communities. “Underneath all the science and technology,
the most important thing we do is pretty simple – people need our help, they call, and
we go.” To report an environmental emergency in Missouri
call the spill line at 573-634-2436.