Spill response team protects environment

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class David D. McLoney
  • 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs

MacDill’s role in the environment isn’t taken lightly, and the base continually stresses the importance of keeping the environment clean. To ensure the base complies with all environmental laws and regulations, MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida has developed the Environmental Element Flight which includes the spill response team.

“The Environmental Element is responsible for monitoring hazardous waste, air quality, storm water, storage tanks, natural resources and cultural resources,” said Andrew Rider, the 6th Civil Engineer Squadron environmental element chief. “MacDill has 88 Jet A, gasoline or diesel, aboveground storage tanks, of which 14 are regulated by the State of Florida. The north apron where the KC-135 Stratotankers are parked and refueled has a storm water drainage system that directly goes to Hillsborough Bay via culverts and a drainage canal.”

If there ever is a spill, whether it be from one of the multiple KC-135s, from a vehicle accident or another possibility, the spill response team is responsible for responding to it and organizing clean up. Afterwards they analyze why it happened to help prevent it from happening in the future. The response usually doesn’t start with them though, as the fire department is typically the first to respond on-scene to a spill.

“The fire department is typically notified first, they are almost always the first on scene,” said Jason W. Kirkpatrick, the 6th CES environmental flight manager. “They respond and do any kind of immediate containment necessary and then they will call the environmental flight to come out and finish cleanup operations, assess the extent of damage and accomplish any follow-on actions that need to be done.”

Affiliates to the National Response Corporation help assist with cleaning up major spills, if there ever is a spill where the environmental element flight cannot entirely clean it up, an oil spill response organization would come in and assist with cleanup. For anything the spill response team can clean up, they respond within an hour to ensure the cleanup is taken care of.

“The environmental flight makes sure all materials are mopped up, absorbed, and cleaned up to the best of their capabilities,” said Kirkpatrick, “We use absorbent pads and kitty litter to soak up the material and remove contaminants.”

Ensuring all the materials are absorbed helps prevent runoff, which happens when a spill gets washed into soil or off pavement, and can affect the environment in the long run.

“Runoff has negative impacts on the environment,” said Kirkpatrick. “Vegetation won’t grow, plants or animals might become damaged or hurt from eating or living in contaminated soil.

Another reason is cost; spills in the long term could drain into the ground and slowly contaminate the ground water which would spread over a large area.

Even if a spill starts out small, it could lead to a large sum of money and manpower in cleanup and environmental remediation.

MacDill has the responsibility of ensuring funds are well spent in protecting the land we use to perform our mission as well as informing the community of how they can help in this endeavor to keep the environment safe.

“We want to make sure MacDill is compliant and reports any large spills, depending on regulations,” said Kirkpatrick. “We also want to protect the resources that have been entrusted to MacDill AFB.”

Environmental damage is preventable, and it is the spill response team’s job to ensure the safety of the environment on and around MacDill. This includes individually, as members of Team MacDill, we should aspire to take care of the environment ourselves and stay informed on what Airmen need to do to ensure they do their part.

“If there is one thing I would like to emphasize it would be that pouring any fuel, oil or any other hazardous chemical or substance down a storm drain can cause great harm to the local environment and is a violation of environmental laws and regulations,” said Rider.

To properly dispose of hazardous materials, locate your nearest household hazardous materials collections center or ask your unit safety representative.

Taking care of the environment is extremely important to MacDill, and taking all the necessary steps to ensure it is done right, can help the base stay clean well into the future.