Feature article written for the Spill Center by Richard Stewart
Six-gallon Diesel Spill Costs Carrier $14,346
When does a routine over-the-road diesel fuel spill cost $14,346?
When 28 emergency personnel from two fire departments arrive
at the spill site in full turnout gear to handle it! That's just the
situation a driver for one of the country's largest LTL carriers
found himself in recently. His trailer jack-knifed in an accident
with another vehicle not far from his terminal in rural central
Pennsylvania, resulting in a broken crossover line. Based on miles
traveled since his last fill-up, the driver calculated that he had no
more than five or six gallons of fuel remaining in his tanks to leak
From a practical standpoint, most jurisdictions don't respond to spills
this small, according to the Spill Center, the environmental claims
management service which audited the fire department invoices for
the carrier. Yet the departments have a right by law to be
compensated when called by police at the scene of the accident.
Could the driver have done anything to lessen the $14,346 charge
to his company? Since the carrier was a Spill Center subscriber, he
should have immediately called the Spill Hotline, even though he
didn't feel the release constituted a reportable spill, says Tom
Moses, Spill Center president.
"A spill that seems very minor can have major consequences," notes
Moses, a toxicologist and attorney specializing in environmental and
safety regulatory compliance, spill response management and claims
resolution. "If the driver had called the Spill Center, we would have
first contacted the local fire departments to advise them of the small
quantity of fuel and that we had activated the carrier's contingency
plan to handle the spill," he says. "Basically we give emergency
responders enough information to decide to do nothing."
Moses recommends that a carrier who receives an invoice from a fire
department to call and ask that the department send a copy of the
ordinance authorizing it to seek reimbursement. "Often times these
laws limit reimbursement to certain items, such as equipment, or
when a named official is on the scene to authorize work," observes
Moses. "Some ordinances require that the work be reasonable or
necessary or arising directly from the spill before it is reimbursable."
Experienced counsel should determine exactly what the ordinance
specifies, he adds.
The Spill Center looks closely at invoices as part of its auditing
service for subscribers. "Without individual audits, carriers run the
risk of not recognizing unreasonable charges such as $25 for donuts
or salary reimbursement for volunteer firefighters." There is a
growing concern in the transportation industry that local ordinances
authorizing reimbursement are becoming overly broad and unfair,
with few limits on the type of costs that can be charged, Moses
reports. He has been invited to teach a workshop for emergency
planning personnel in Ohio this summer on billing for emergency
About 88% of all spills handled by the Spill Center involve diesel
from truck fuel tanks -- half from broken crossover lines and half
from punctured saddle tanks. In saddle tank releases, the average
amount spilled is 104 gallons. The average cost to clean that up
nationwide is about $9,200, says Moses. The Spill Center, formed
in 1990, develops custom contingency plans and provides spill
management, reporting and compliance documentation, cleanup
contractor referrals, and other services to limit subscribers' costs
and liabilities related to hazmat and fuel spills. The Safety
Management Council offers reduced Spill Center rates for
members. For more information, contact the Spill Center...