Preparedness Measures for Oil Spill Cleanup Volunteers

A natural inclination for many coastal residents is the desire to volunteer and help with the cleanup of oil spills that threaten the marine environment. Crude oil is a hazardous substance and spill responders don’t take handling it lightly.

Hazardous Materials Training for Oil Spill Volunteers

A person qualified at the technician level to respond to an oil spill response has competed a 24-hour HAZWOPER (Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response) course and takes an 8-hour refresher class each year. There often are emergency courses like those offered by organizations like Prince William Sound Community College ( to potential responders following major spill incidents.

People willing to serve in oil spill cleanup operations as volunteers, once they become aware of an incident, are known as convergent volunteers. There are provisions in federal law [40 CFR 300 Part 185 (c)] that recognize the value of these volunteers and define how this group can be utilized during a spill emergency. Convergent volunteers are not likely to be used in physical oil removal or remedial activities without additional safety training, but are very useful in efforts like wildlife rehabilitation, placement of defensive boom or beach cleanup.

An Oil Spill Cleanup Volunteer’s Equipment Kit or Go Bag

A person interested in serving as a volunteer during an oil spill or other disaster incident would be wise to prepare an equipment kit or go bag, ready to be taken to an emergency scene when needed. Gathering the gear up ahead of time insures that everything will be available when it’s really needed. The go bag can easily fit in a nylon duffle bag. Some items to consider for the go bag:


  • Commercial Rain Gear (Examples: Helly Hansen or Grundens)
  • Rubber Safety Boots
  • Rubber Gloves
  • Disposable Gloves
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Hardhat
  • USCG Approved Lifejacket
  • Spare Set of Clothes
  • Extra Prescription Medication
  • Spare Photo Identification Card
  • Several Plastic Bags

Many volunteers that are willing to help with the cleanup of an oil spill have specialized skills that would benefit the overall response effort. Be sure to pack specialized equipment that pertains to any special skills and carry proof of additional training like first-aid or HAZWOPER cards. People interested in making a difference can do it through volunteerism. A little preparation can greatly support these efforts. Training opportunities are routinely made available by public service organizations in coastal communities. Contact the local fire department or Coast Guard station and ask about upcoming courses. Be prepared.