When people talk about oil spills, they often do so only in terms of large spills encompassing thousands of barrels of oil in a single incident. Visually striking, the images from these spills splash across newspapers, get extended attention on television shows, and often feature as the centerpiece of online articles. Unquestionably harmful to the environment, coverage of these catastrophes has, over time, created a false perception that these large spills are the primary threat, while less sensational reports which show that the big spills actually form the smaller portion of oil entering our rivers, lakes and oceans are generally ignored by media outlets trying to hold the attention of the public.
In truth, every drop of an oil product that escapes us will at some point end up contaminating the soil or wind up in the water systems around us. The cumulative effect of small leaks from cars, drips of oil from hydraulic cylinders on heavy machinery, the few drops we spill when we fill up our cars, boats and small appliances actually far exceeds the amount of oil released in big spills every year. This is not an issue best addressed through the glamorous advocacy efforts of celebrities cleaning oil-coated animals or by highly placed corporate executives being called before government committees. It requires instead that we meet one of the most difficult challenges: inspiring a small amount of sustained efforts from every individual, business, and government over a long period of time.
It is currently estimated that there are over 78 million storm drain inlets across North America. Each and every one of these provides a place where oil run-off from roads, parking lots and other structures can be carried directly into municipal sewer systems and into our fresh and marine water environments. Most of these spills will go untreated as most regions do not have infrastructure in place to deal with diluted oil in water.
Does the technology exist to stop oil from getting into our street drains?
Does it cost money to do this?
Are we willing to pay?
This is always a stumbling block to the protection of our environment from ourselves – it is almost always cheaper in terms of time, money and effort to destroy, pollute and despoil than to protect. By supporting and joining the Oil Spill Response Team, you become a part of the shift away from the status quo in a cost effective way by helping to clean up the oil on our roads, parking lots and drive ways before it reaches the drain and our waters.
What can I do about it?
First, be aware of what you do yourself – are you throwing out that empty bottle of engine oil with the trash, or disposing of it properly? Are you taking the extra few seconds of care to make sure you don’t spill a stream of gasoline when you fill your car?
Second, take some time to find out what oil problems are most pervasive in your community, and help to resolve them by joining the Oil Spill Response Team.
Finally, make sure that other people know you care about the protection of our environment. One person privately acting to clean up their habits will help, but if that same person is a visible role model to those around them they can have a far greater influence. That is the power of a team!