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Pure Appl. Chem., Vol. 71, No. 1, 1999


Edward Tedeschi
7 Border Street, Cohasset, MA 02025, USA

Introduction: A "Boom" is a floating mechanical barrier used to control the movement of substances that float according to ASTM F-818 Standard Terminology Relating to Spill Response Barriers. (ASTM, 1994).

Since oil has been transported by sea, accidental spills have occurred from time to time, but only since the 1960's has its spillage along coastlines or within harbor areas caused enough public concern to demand that it be removed immediately. Large disasters, such as the grounding of the "Torrey Canyon" and the Santa Barbara drilling platform blowout, put pressure on the oil producing community to prevent spillage and to develop procedures and equipment to recover the spills that did occur. Experimental booms were introduced in the early 1960's but it wasn't until later in the decade that their manufacture became commercially viable. Relatively crude booms to contain or control the spread of spilled oil were developed and some were assembled on site. Logs were tied together with old conveyor belting nailed between the ends; oil drums were strapped to plywood sheets connected with rubber or fabric; canvas was sewn over fishing floats knotted along a line. Although these booms were relatively effective in calm water when a small volume of oil was spilled, most of them were cumbersome to maneuver and they quickly failed when waves or current were present.

Spills in the early 1970's, along with growing environmental awareness, prompted legislators, both national and local, to require that the responsible parties clean up their act. Worldwide entrepreneurial spirit spawned several dozen small manufacturing enterprises to meet local and, in some cases, international demand for cheap efficient booms.

In the mid 70's, several events happened which shaped the spill response industry and started the evolution leading to the better products and response techniques which we use today. The Arab Oil Embargo of 1973 raised the price of a barrel of oil to the point that the cost of the product lost in a spill became relevant. U.S. governmental agencies, including E.P.A., M.M.S., and Coast Guard developed regulations that fined the spillers of even small amounts of oil. Money was spent by government and the oil industry on research and test facilities to understand the limits and differences of boom designs, resulting in improved performance. Oil terminals in most major harbor areas pooled their resources and formed local and regional oil spill response cooperatives (Etkin, 1991). The U.S. Navy, being a large buyer of booms, contacted the American Society of Testing and Materials (ASTM) to see if they had any people working on the subject of spill response products in general and specifically on standardization of boom connectors. They did not, so they issued an invitation to the industry at-large to form a committee to write standards on that subject. Committee F-20 was born. It took ten years to publish F-962 Standard Specification for Oil Spill Response Boom Connector, but along the way, over 40 consensus Standards (ASTM, 1994) have been published to aid users and manufacturers alike in the selection of spill response products and guidelines for their use.

This chapter will discuss the types of booms available today, the problems associated with their use under various environmental conditions, special products for unusual situations, and also thoughts regarding future developments.

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