How Do Chemical Spills Affect The Environment?

Friday 16th December 2022

Joanna Grimbley-Smith

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oil spill on water


Chemical spills can be very hazardous situations depending on what has been spilled and how much. Typically, the main concerns are the risks to the people in the area, as well as potential damage to property. But if it leaks into a watercourse or onto soil, the environment could be at stake too.

Here at ICE Cleaning, our specialist technicians can provide chemical spill cleaning services. They are trained in handling and disposing of chemicals, and can be on site in an hour in an emergency.

Read on to find out more about how chemical pollution could damage the environment.

What are the effects of a chemical spill on the environment?

It poses a risk to human health

When a large spill occurs, the immediate danger is to people in the workplace, and the local community. Should toxic or flammable fumes be produced, it could affect their health if they inhale or are in contact with it.

It can cause bioaccumulation

Exposure to some chemicals could cause it to build up in tissues and bodily fluids over time. This could result in long-term harm to the person or animal that is exposed to it.

A good example of this is mercury levels in fish when the heavy metal enters bodies of water. Any human or animal that consumes that fish will then ingest the mercury, which could cause serious health problems.

It can contaminate the soil

If a spilled or leaked chemical gets onto soil, crops might get contaminate. This means any person or other organism that eats them is at risk of health problems. It can also lead to ecological damage by harming wildlife and making areas uninhabitable.

After it has seeped into the soil, the substance could then contaminate water sources, which will have more far-reaching impacts.

It can pollute our water sources

Since we use groundwater for irrigating crops and as drinking water for animals, hazardous spills can do further damage to plants and endanger the animals consuming it. Should a toxic chemical enter surface water - our water supply - people could be at risk of ingesting it.

Some substances might also affect wildlife living in and around rivers and lakes if it leaks into them. One of the biggest problems it can cause is eutrophication. This is where plants stop producing oxygen and the rest of the organisms in the water are unable to survive.

The chemicals could also do serious harm to local wildlife, like causing organ problems, reproductive issues, and behaviour changes. 

It could damage marine life

Once chemicals enter water sources, the substance can quickly reach the ocean. Here it might continue to harm wildlife, destroy habitats, and disrupt food chains. The chemical spill effects tend to be much more devastating here as the substance can spread very far.

What to do when a chemical spills onto soil or water sources

If pollutants have entered a watercourse or have soaked into the ground (or this is at risk of happening) you must contact the Environment Agency pollution incident hotline. Pollution is illegal and could result in a prison sentence and a fine.

To minimise the impact of chemical pollution or prevent it from happening, you need to make sure spills are cleaned up quickly and thoroughly.

How to clean up a chemical spill

You should never attempt to clear it up yourself. Exposure to or contact with dangerous substances without the right personal protective equipment could put you and others at risk of serious health problems.

You also might not remove all traces of the substance and leave the area contaminated. Or you could do more damage, such as washing it down a drain, which could cause pollution.Only qualified professionals with the right gear and training in chemical spill cleaning take care of it.

What you can do, however, is ensure you have a chemical spill response plan in place which is regularly updated and frequently practiced. A prompt, effective response is critical to protecting workers, getting operations back up and running, and reducing the chances of pollution.

You can find advice on creating an emergency response plan on the Health and Safety Executive’s website.

How to respond to a chemical spill

  • Communicate the spill: alert employees that there has been a chemical spill and, depending on the substance, evacuate them. Notify the authorities that one has occurred, and if someone is injured, contact the emergency services.
  • Stop it: professionals or qualified persons will need to close valves or make sure the container that spilled the chemical is upright, if safe to do so. They will make sure any ignition and heat sources are turned off, and secure substances that could react with the substance.
  • Contain the hazard: chemical spill cleaning specialists will use absorbent materials such as drain plugs, spill socks, and other equipment to stop it spreading and causing more damage.
  • Clean up the spill: the material used to contain the spill will be collected and disposed of. They will then decontaminate the area so it is safe to work in again.

You can find out more about what to do when a chemical spills in this blog.

ICE Cleaning’s technicians can clean up a range of dangerous chemicals and substances including mercury, bromine, and hazardous waste.

Get in touch

Contact our team on 0208 066 0360 or at to book our technicians for chemical spill cleaning

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