Development of an Integrated Database for the Management of Accidental Spills
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Several shipping accidents in Belgian territorial waters made the various government agencies involved aware of the need to develop tools to assess the associated risks and the impact on marine resources in the case of an accidental release of hazardous substances. Although shipping is one of the main activities in the North Sea, the information that is currently reported within several regulatory frameworks only allows for a limited scope to assess the impact of such a spill. Conventionally federal agencies, responsible for evaluating the nature and extent of environmental damage, rely on information sources such as GESAMP hazard profiles (for more information: http://gesamp.imo.org), IMDG codes and databases accessible via internet. Although these databases do provide a general overview of the properties and toxicity of the compound of concern their use is limited. Most often these sources are not specifically orientated towards issues such as long-term effects of pollutants to marine organisms and bioaccumulation of such pollutants in marine food chains and a considerable amount of interpretation by experts is still needed who are not always immediately available.

Nonetheless, should an accident occur in which substances are discharged into the sea, threatening to be washed up on the beach or even spilled by transportation over land, a prompt reaction to the calamity is essential in order to minimise the potential damage. The choice of effective measures to abate the pollution will depend to a large extent on the direct availability of reliable and up-to date information on the fate, hazards and risk management procedures to be taken for the spilled product. In this regard it is imperative that all relevant information is made available in a proper format that is easily accessible and interpretable for all stakeholders concerned including the non-expert.

The current project aims to provide such a tool in which environmental data of specific marine pollutants is made available to a broad range of possible end users. Since the tool should facilitate and support the decision making in case of an accidental spill, involvement of different stakeholders belonging to different organisational levels is a prerequisite in order to take into account the specific concerns over the complete chain of command. This is reflected in the composition of the proposed users committee that consists of representatives of federal and municipal administrations, scientists, port authorities, clean-up and care professionals etc.). As such it can be ensured that the developed database will be tailored to the needs of the different end-users).

With the compiled data a relational database containing the latest information on effects (acute and chronic), fate (absorption, distribution, degradation, metabolic processing and detoxification), bioaccumulation/biomagnification, GESAMP hazard profiles and physico-chemical properties will be developed for a selection of 400 substances. The selection of these substances will be based on criteria such as occurrence on priority lists, volumes transported over sea, frequency of involvement in accidental spills and frequency of transports over sea.

Active dissemination of the compiled information is of key importance for increasing public awareness and understanding by all stakeholders. This will be done through a variety of means, e.g. publication of reports, the development of a website but the true valorisation of the results will consists in the development of a thorough, integrated and multi-disciplinary database embedded in a fully web-enabled searching graphical user interface. Data accessibility will be improved by using standard formats simplifying data retrieval and use. As such the tool will increase transparency and allowing for rapid communication. Furthermore the output compatibility with already existing impact models will be taken into consideration. The first beneficiaries of this tool will be the people directly involved in the first phase of a containment plan for an accidental spill. As such the taking of initial decisions, for example concerning the level to which the organisation should be alerted or mobilised, whether action is required etc. will be facilitated The final indirect beneficiaries will be the general public (scientists, journalists, general public, etc.) who will be better informed about the potential impact to man and the environment.

Supported by
the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office

General coordination: Bram Versonnen, Marnix Vangheluwe
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