To protect its employees, members of the public, and the environment from any accidental chemical releases or exposure, the Vallecitos Water District has established its own internal Hazardous Materials Response Team or HAZMAT team. Maintaining its own internal team allows a 24-hour response capability.
Common hazardous chemicals play vital roles in the water and wastewater industry for disinfection and odor control. They are also used in fueling and maintaining agency vehicles, generators, pumps, and motors.
A HAZMAT team is an organized group of professionals who receive special training to handle hazardous materials or dangerous goods. A HAZMAT team responds to oil, chemical and other liquid spills, industrial and military explosions and accidents during transportation, and similar incidents.
The Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team consists of 20 members from different departments. They complete U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response training, which provides a set of guidelines regulating hazardous water waste operations and emergency services in the U.S.
When an emergency call requires HAZMAT team response, individual members move from their regular job assignments to the HAZMAT Response Trailer. The team then mobilizes to the site of the emergency.
HAZMAT team protects people and the environment
“It’s a great honor just knowing we’re here to protect people in the surrounding areas, to protect the environment, and to know we’re here to jump into action in case there’s an issue,” said Matthew Wiese, senior plant operator at the Meadowlark Treatment Facility. “We’ve trained and we’ve gone through scenarios. Being able to act with confidence, it’s a great thing to be a part of that team.”
Vallecitos Water District HAZMAT team members wear specialized personal protective equipment and clothing to make safe entries into potentially hazardous areas. If a leak or spill of chemicals occurs, the HAZMAT team uses specialized tools and equipment to identify, and stop the release and spread of any contamination as quickly as safely possible.
Team members conduct monthly drills on common scenarios.
“If there was a release of chlorine gas which we use to conduct our wastewater treatment activities, we have specialized equipment and materials to lock down those cylinders so we can stop the release,” said Trisha Woolslayer, risk management supervisor. “We practice on a regular basis so we react quickly if an accidental release were to occur.”
Watch video of a recent training exercise.
Following each exercise, all team members hold a debriefing to discuss their observations, and how procedures might be improved.
Woolslayer said swifter response times and cost savings offset the investment in training and equipment by the District.
“It allows us to respond quickly, to stop whatever spill it is and protect the environment,” she said. “There are also cost savings. We spend on training and equipment, but it is a small amount compared to having a response contractor on call.”