Enabling science support for better decision-making when responding to chemical spills


Chemical spills and accidents contaminate the environment and disrupt societies and economies around the globe. In the United States there were approximately 172,000 chemical spills that affected US waterbodies from 2004 to 2014. More than 8000 of these spills involved non-petroleum-related chemicals. Traditional emergency responses or incident command structures (ICSs) that respond to chemical spills require coordinated efforts by predominantly government personnel from multiple disciplines, including disaster management, public health, and environmental protection. However, the requirements of emergency response teams for science support might not be met within the traditional ICS. We describe the US ICS as an example of emergency-response approaches to chemical spills and provide examples in which external scientific support from research personnel benefitted the ICS emergency response, focusing primarily on nonpetroleum chemical spills. We then propose immediate, near-term, and long-term activities to support the response to chemical spills, focusing on nonpetroleum chemical spills. Further, we call for science support for spill prevention and near-term spill-incident response and identify longerterm research needs. The development of a formal mechanism for external science support of ICS from governmental and nongovernmental scientists would benefit rapid responders, advance incident- and crisis-response science, and aid society in coping with and recovering from chemical spills.

Publication Title

Journal of Environmental Quality