Responding to oil and hazardous materials spills

Our response team is always ready to respond to incidents involving oil spills and releases of hazardous materials. The sooner we can respond, the less injury is done to Washington’s public health and safety, environment, and economy. We have teams based in Bellevue, Bellingham, Olympia, Spokane, Union Gap, and Vancouver to provide year-round, statewide, 24-hour a day response services.

Whether we are responding to chemical releases, motor vehicle accidents, grounded vessels, train derailments, or cleaning up drug labs, our top objectives are to ensure the health and safety of citizens, the environment and the economy. In Washington, we're designated to coordinate oil spills and hazardous materials response efforts by working with state agencies and local emergency response personnel on incidents that threaten or impact state waters.

Clockwise, from top: respiratory mask and two filters, self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), Drager tube pump and tubes, particulate meter (blue), six-gas air monitor (yellow), hand-held radio, calibration gas canisters, volatile organic compound (VOC) and benzene monitor, chemical gloves.

New equipment grants awarded statewide

Our grants help local communities pay for equipment and training so they can quickly respond to spills of oil or other hazardous materials, as well as fires.

When incidents happen, we work to:

Control and contain the source of pollution

Controlling a spill or release can be as easy as plugging a hole in a tank, or as complex as capping an oil well on the bottom of the ocean. For spills to water we often use oil containment booms, which are floating, physical barriers made of plastic, metal, or other materials to slow the spread of oil and keep it contained.

Clean it up

One way we clean up oil spills is by using absorbent material that is oleophilic — in other words, it attracts oil but not water. This material comes in a lot of shapes and sizes including rectangular pads, long, thick sausage-like rolls, and even shredded material that looks like cheerleading pom-poms. Another device we use to cleanup spills is called a skimmer, which removes oil from the surface of the water. Companies or cooperatives with equipment and personnel that respond to oil spills, called Primary Response Contractors (PRCs), can also be hired to aid in cleanup efforts.

When spills occur, we not only clean the environment, we help harmed wildlife. Oil and hazardous materials can harm wildlife due to their harmful fumes. Wildlife can absorb these substances through their skin, consume it while feeding or grooming, or become coated or smothered by it. We work with wildlife professionals and trained volunteers to safely capture, clean, rehabilitate, and release wildlife, as diverse as birds and sea otters all the way to frogs and turtles, back into the environment.

Investigate the cause

We work with spillers to find the cause of a spill or release so we can identify things like procedure changes or equipment fixes that could help reduce the chance of another spill or release happening.

Assess natural resource damages

Whenever oil or hazardous materials are released into the environment, they cause injury to Washington's resources. Working cooperatively with spillers, as well as other federal, state, and tribal resource trustees, we determine the extent of those impacts using a process called a Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

Restore our natural resources

Ultimately, we assess the extent of environmental impacts from the spill so we can determine what type of, and how much, restoration is needed to bring the resources back to the condition they would have been had a spill or release not occurred.

Grants for spill response equipment and training

We provide equipment cache grants to give local emergency responders the equipment and training they need to respond to spills of oil or hazardous materials.
Our responders show the various types of spill response equipment and how each is used. This equipment was funded by our grant program. Video: Garratt Powers
Applicant Award amount Equipment or training requested
White Salmon Fire Department $188,000 Radios
Lummi Indian Business Council $100,000 Response boat
San Juan County Fire District 4 $30,250 Foam, boating safety equipment and response training
Swinomish Tribe $186,400 Safety and air monitoring equipment and response training
Seattle Fire Department $247,000 Firefighting foam accessories
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife $100,000 Oiled mammal rescue
Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife $100,600 Response boat
West Pierce Fire and Rescue $107,000 Air monitoring, decontamination equipment
Stevens County Fire Protection District 5 $377,500 Air monitoring, hazmat response equipment and training
North Mason Regional Fire Authority $12,500 Firefighting foam and absorbent materials
Puget Sound Regional Fire Authority $96,000 Vehicle and absorbents
Stevenson Public Works $96,000 Response vehicle
Graham Fire and Rescue $295,000 Trailer for hazardous material response equipment, tow vehicle and training
Vancouver $33,000 Air monitoring equipment
Port of Vancouver $41,000 Spill response trailer
San Juan County Emergency Management $17,000 Trailer to hold oil spill containment boom
Pierce County Fire District 5 $54,999 Hazardous material identification equipment
Klickitat County Emergency Medical Services Dist. 1 $26,000 Radios
Spokane $94,000 Trailer to hold firefighting foam
Washington Department of Health $17,000 Radios
Mukilteo $31,000 All-terrain vehicle
Whatcom County Fire District 7 $154,650 Air monitoring and personal protective equipment, as well as training
Everett Fire Department $85,000 Oil spill containment boom and a tow truck
Samish Indian Nation $180,000 Spill response landing craft