Written by Atlantic Strike Team.
Known as “the world’s best responders, any time, any place, any hazard,” the Atlantic Strike Team is one of the Coast Guard’s special teams that can respond in the most extreme of circumstances. The group of highly trained, experienced personnel and specialized equipment responds to oil pollution, hazardous substance releases and other emergencies in order to protect public health and the environment. Their skills in hazardous material response were recently put on display in an old chemical facility in Michigan.
Responders arrived at the former chemical production facility to find more than 500 drums, tanks, compressed gas cylinders and other miscellaneous containers strewn throughout the abandoned site. A large number of the containers were unlabeled, unsecured and marked with warnings ranging from “toxic” to ”poison.”
“There were puddles and pools of liquid waste on the floor around many of the containers, and it was critical that the area be cleaned properly,” said Ed Primeau, Atlantic Strike Team’s industrial hygienist. “This site is located next to a residential area and posed a significant threat to the local population.”
The strike team supported and worked alongside the Environmental Protection Agency throughout the hazardous materials emergency removal action. The National Strike Force and EPA have an extensive history of working together to reduce or eliminate the dangers posed to both humans and the environment at hazardous materials sites. Their relationship stems from the National Contingency Plan, which dictates the strike force’s pollution response resources are available to the Coast Guard, EPA and Department of Defense throughout a response.
“The longstanding relationships, response support history and seamless interoperability that all three Coast Guard strike teams have with their regional EPA on-scene coordinators is vital to safe mission completion during any pollution incident large or small,” said Cmdr. Richard Schultz, the commanding officer of the Atlantic Strike Team.
Over a four-week period, under the direction of an environmental chemist, Atlantic Strike Team members reviewed material safety data sheets for all the chemicals found at the factory, reviewed the transportation and disposal documentation for all chemicals departing the site and conducted field tests to determine the hazardous characteristics of samples. Their tireless work allowed the cleanup contractor to safely dispose of bulk compatible chemicals, thus reducing the amount of waste streams needed for disposal.
In addition to conducting hazard categorization, the strike team brought an instrument new to its inventory to conduct chemical sample analysis. The instrument uses a technique called Raman spectroscopy to initiate molecular vibrations, or Raman scattering. This information is then used by the instrument to identify the chemical.
“The new equipment allowed us to identify numerous unknowns in less than half the time it takes to perform the hazardous categorization process on a sample,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Seth Hartmann, a machinery technician with the strike team.
All together, Atlantic Strike Team members performed field laboratory tests to categorize a total of 329 samples and verified the contents of 149 containers.
“The hazard categorization and test results allowed the removal and disposal contractors to handle hazardous materials in a safe manner that protected responders and the local population during site cleanup operations,” said Primeau.
In the end, the men and women of the Atlantic Strike Team used their expert training, experience and specialized equipment to safeguard the community from the factory’s hazardous chemical threat.