This is an article from the September Bulletin Issue written by Mike G Zahajko, Executive Vice President, CAF

Since the first petrol station was built in 1905, fuel spills continue to be a common occurrence that causes millions in property damage, injury, and deaths each year. Surprisingly, over 100 years later most petrol station operators respond to spills with the same technology – ordinary sand!

In the United States, December 2020 data from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), recorded 4,150 fires at gas stations. These fires caused 43 injuries, $30 million in direct property damage, and 3 deaths. Unsurprisingly, the item most often first ignited was “flammable or combustible liquids”.

To the untrained eye, most observers would say that spilled gasoline evaporates and goes away by itself. In a study published in the Journal of Contaminant Hydrology by researchers from Johns Hopkins, experiments were conducted to learn just how much gasoline is spilled and where it goes. The results were surprising. The researchers estimate that 1,500 liters of gasoline are spilled on the average petrol station each decade.

Markus Hilpert, senior study leader and senior scientist, stated that “Gas Station owners have worked very hard to prevent gasoline from leaking out of underground storage tanks, but our research shows we should also be paying attention to the small spills that routinely occur when you refill your vehicle’s tank.”

Why is sand used? It is cheap, readily available, and absorbs spilled petroleum products.

Is using sand to treat a gasoline really an inexpensive option? The full cost of “responding to a fuel spill” must include the absorbent cost, labour, and disposal.

Absorbent Cost: sand is inexpensive, ranging from £0.11-0.30 per KG.

Labour Cost: treating a spill with sand takes 20-30 minutes of labour, with another 20 minutes of waiting to absorb. Assuming £15 per hour of employee costs, that adds £7.50 to the clean-up cost (more than 10 times the cost of the sand). The time study included the time to cone-off the spill, spread the sand, sweep up and bag the contaminated sand and then dispose into the Hazmat barrel.

Disposal Cost: containing and disposing of hazardous waste is expensive, typically ranging from £500-1000 for a drum. As a “waste generator”, in some jurisdictions the generator owns the waste forever.

In addition to a high total cost, sand and other absorbents fail to address the primary safety issue of a fuel spill – FLAMMABILITY. Throughout the process the sand continues to be highly flammable, which creates a significant safety concern that endangers the responder and customers in the spill area.

Despite being the most common solution for over 100 years, utilizing sand on spills is expensive, labour-intensive, unsafe and fails to correctly treat gasoline left behind in the concrete. Fortunately, new fire suppression technologies are available and are successful in addressing operational, safety and cost related issues at petrol stations around the globe.

REACT® Fuel Spill Neutralizer uses micro-emulsion to suppress vapors to remove fuel flammability in less than 3 minutes. Additionally, active microbes in the solution use bioremediation to breakdown any remaining hydrocarbons in the surface over time. Bioremediation is an EPArecommended process for using microbes to break down hazardous chemicals and contaminants.

Application is simple. Spray REACT over the spill to neutralize the fuel, eliminating flammability and remediating fuel left behind in the surface. No absorbents or disposal is required. Spills can now be treated in less than 60 seconds of labour. It is now safer, easier and less expensive to manage fuel spills.

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Mike Zahajko is an industry speaker and the executive vice president for CAF. CAF is a leader in outdoor cleaning. For more about CAF visit

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