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Containment Booms: Containing Harmful Industrial Chemical Spills

In November 2005, the Jilin Petrochemical Corporation plant in Jilin City, China exploded, injuring 70 people and killed six. This caused 10,000 residents to evacuate the area due to chemical exposure and contamination brought about by the blasts. The explosion released an estimated 100 tons of toxic chemicals into the Songhua River that ran up to 80 kilometers of the river's course, and even spread up to Russia. The pollutants in the river were benzene and nitrobenzene, which can cause reduction of white blood cells in the body which can be attributed to the disease leukemia.

Large industrial disasters such as this are threatening to both human populations and natural resources. Toxic contamination of water systems and land areas due to chemical spills can cause severe illnesses and agricultural devastation. In the event of industrial spills, whether large or small, preliminary measures must be taken into action to avoid further damaging effects of toxic chemicals.

In the U.S, the Environmental Protection Agency or EPA has their own regulations for emergency response to environmental hazards caused by industrial chemical spills. There are about 20,000 cases of industrial spills in the States but these accidents are immediately reported and managed to prevent further environmental damages. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- CERCLA or Superfund -- provides a Federal "Superfund" to clean up uncontrolled or abandoned hazardous-waste sites as well as accidents, spills, and other emergency releases of pollutants and contaminants into the environment. Through CERCLA, EPA was given power to seek out those parties responsible for any release and assure their cooperation in the cleanup.

One of the emergency response strategies that are important in preventing further damage is the containment of pollutants in one area. Since these pollutants are most likely to contaminate water drainage systems, putting up barriers surrounding its spill source minimizes potential harm to the environment. Containment booms trap hazardous substances, such as oil and chemicals, on water surfaces. Chemicals and other hazardous substances contained within the booms are cleaned through the use of absorbents, wet vacuums, and other spill response kits.

Containment booms are used as the first line of defense in controlling the damages made by industrial spills in the water ways. These floating barriers are made of lightweight PVC with skirts, running up to 18 inches below water, which help contain chemicals under the surface. After cleaning the chemicals or removing them from water surfaces, these containment booms are the last to be removed from the affected sites, ensuring water safety and proper pollution management.

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