A step beyond traditional cleaning
Unfortunately, the example of the debacle in Incheon is not an isolated one. A study published by Bloomberg in 2014 found that up to 10,000 tonnes of chemicals are leaked into American waters annually, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA’s) Office of Response and Restoration estimate that an oil spillage of some description occurs on a US-administered waterway at least once every single day.
The traditional response to such a catastrophe is to initiate a cleanup operation. The methods used in such operations range from the rudimentary – the deployment of spill containment berms which either sit flush at ground level or float on the surface of a body of water, preventing the spread of contamination, for example – to the more sophisticated; the release of dispersal agents into the contaminated area to break down the chemicals and make them easier to deal with.
These methods may appear to be very different in nature, but they each approach the problem from the same angle. They all seek to mechanically contain or remove the chemical contaminant, in just the same way we would if we spilled an oil-based substance at home, just on a far greater scale.
The problem lies in what comes next. Containing a spillage is only a temporary measure; the contaminants must still be disposed of in a safe and effective manner. The use of dispersal agents does not remove the contaminant; instead, it is merely broken down. Research from the Conservation Institute suggests that this deconstituted material may, in fact, be more damaging to coral structures and other species than spilled crude oil itself.
It would also be difficult to contain and disperse toxic chemicals at a site like Camp Market without large-scale evacuation of the area. The dispersal agents are potentially harmful and damaging to organic life themselves and are wholly unsuitable for use in an urban location, or in any location in which people and animals live.
With this in mind, it soon becomes clear that we need to move beyond traditional cleaning and containment methods, instead looking towards something more effective, more efficient, and far kinder to our environment.