When and How to Report Hazmat Spills

paint spilling GIF
This is a crime against carpet, and you should report it to the regular police. Straight to jail.

If a few gallons of bleach burst open in your car, it might feel like the end of the world, but the federal government doesn’t need to know. 

However, if the spill affects the general public and/or the environment, there are reporting guidelines that you should follow. For example, if you spill a few gallons of bleach into a pond at a public park, you should tell someone.

For a slightly more plausible scenario, let’s say that you’re pleasure cruising on your boat (must be nice) and you see that you’ve spilled some oil into the water. Do you report it? To whom?

We honestly don’t know! The EPA’s answer is absolutely unhelpful, unless you are a marine oil spill expert. The best course of action is to report oil spills of any size to the EPA or ask your local marina for advice, since they will have the best information on local water quality standards. Perhaps the pain of abiding vague regulations is a small penance for being wealthy enough to own a boat.

Rule of Thumb

Eat the rich.

If you’re the owner or operator of a company, your responsibility to report spills is significant. The good news is that your reporting expectations are extremely specific. No nonsense here! The EPA’s list of Superfund Reportable Quantities dictates hazardous spill amounts that require reporting. Some releases of “extremely hazardous substances” also require additional reports to emergency response services to ensure safety in the area. So you can rest easy knowing that the people who really need to know when to report their spills are probably going to do it if they have any respect at all for the law of the land.

Oil rig in ocean
Certainly, they are reporting all of their spills.

Detected A Spill Somewhere? Here’s What To Do

Some people have no respect for the law of the land! You may recall that we have a judicial system for precisely this reason. That means you might be find someone else’s spill. If you see one, here’s what you can do to help.

How to Report a High-Risk Hazmat Spill

  1. In case of oil/chemical spills, radiation emergencies, and biological discharges, call 1-800-424-8802 and reach out to the National Response Center.
  2. To report violations related to lead-based paint, visit the EPA’s lead paint reporting site.
  3. In case of dumping incidents in international waters, reach out to the United States Coast Guard directly:
    • USCG National Response Center
      • Tel: +1-800 424 8802, +1 202 267 2180
      • Email: HQS-DG-lst-NRCINFO@uscg.mil
      • Fax: +1-202-267-1322

How to Report a Low-Risk Hazmat Spill

  1. To report non-emergency pesticide spills, call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222. 
  2. If you’re not sure who to call or even what was spilled, but you suspect it should be reported, check the Emergency Contacts page of CHEMMA (Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management) for the appropriate contact agency and number.
ice cream cone dropped on ground
It’s probably ice cream, but are you SURE?

What should I expect in the aftermath of a hazardous spill?

About the Authors

It takes a village! We are researching, writing and fact checking as a family. Collaboration is the name of the game, whether we’re running from a zombie horde or finding the best way to turn a complex concept into a deliciously digestible set of bullet points.

Katherine Esperanza is a Los Angeles based writer. When she's not conjuring new queer slice-of-life short stories, she's busy watching the newest films, out at queer shows, supporting queer artists, or just checking out the queer community as a whole.

A former international non-profiteer, small business owner, and co-op'er, Katherine is delighted to help introduce more leftist politics into the disaster preparedness/prepper sphere, which is currently far too right-wing.