A Spill of National Significance (SONS) is a spill that, due to

  • severity,
  • size,
  • location,
  • actual or potential impact on the public health and welfare or the environment, or
  • the necessary response effort is so complex that it requires extraordinary coordination of Federal, State, local, Tribal, and responsible party resources to contain and clean up the discharge.

A discharge may be classified as a SONS by the Administrator of EPA for discharges occurring in the inland zone and the Commandant of the USCG for discharges occurring in the coastal zone. For a SONS in the inland zone, the EPA Administrator may name a senior Agency official to assist the OSC in communicating with the affected parties and the public and coordinating Federal, State, local, Tribal, and international resources at the national level. This strategic coordination will involve, as appropriate, the NRT, RRT(s), the Governor(s) of affected State(s), and the mayor(s) or other chief executive(s) of local government(s).


CWA Section 311(d)(2)(J) requires the ACP to include procedures and standards for removing a worst case discharge of oil and for mitigating or preventing a substantial threat of such a discharge. The CWA specifically states that when implemented in conjunction with the NCP, the ACP must “be adequate to remove a worst case discharge, and to mitigate or prevent a substantial threat of such discharge from a vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility operating in or near the area.”   

The CWA and its implementing regulations require certain vessels and facilities to develop a spill response plan that is consistent with the ACP.  Facilities and vessels subject to the regulations must identify a WCD in its response plan.  The NCP defines a WCD to mean: 1) in the case of a vessel, a discharge in adverse weather conditions of its entire cargo, and 2) in the case of an offshore facility or onshore facility, the largest foreseeable discharge in adverse weather conditions. 

The NCP at 40 C.F.R. 300.324 allows an ACP to further define a WCD by specifying what types of WCDs require activation of the WCD provisions of the ACP.  For the purposes of this plan, WCDs are: (1) the WCD identified in Facility Response Plans (FRPs) approved by EPA Region 5 and (2) WCDs identified by subarea committees in the SACPs.  As such, this RCP/ACP contains response measures adequate to address a WCD identified in EPA Region 5 approved FRPs as well as WCDs identified in SACPs. In addition, the regulatory scheme for approving vessel and facility response plans and the regulatory requirement that the RRT evaluate the effectiveness of an ACP in part by reviewing response actions carried out between RRT meetings allow for continued assessment of the response strategies set forth herein.  Accordingly, the removal strategies, equipment, personnel, and expertise described in this RCP/ACP and the SACPs are adequate to remove a WCD from a vessel, offshore facility, or onshore facility operating in or near the area. 

For a list of FRPs approved by EPA and the WCDs identified in the Region 5 Area by subarea committees, see Appendix III. 

It is important to note that at the time of this revision to the RCP/ACP, EPA Region 5 has not inventoried the entire Region 5 Area to assess all sources of oil regulated under the CWA and its implementing regulations.  EPA Region 5 is currently undertaking such efforts in the 26 subareas through RRT5 subarea committees and will continue evaluating portions of the Region 5 Area that are not part of a designated subarea to identify additional WCDs.   

See Appendix II:  Worst Case Discharges in Region 5 for information on identified WCDs.  


Assumptions: The responsible party and federal/state/local agencies will respond to the discharge in an appropriate manner. Immediate containment of the discharge would not be feasible because it is a WCD.

Hazard Assessment: During a response effort, safety of human life is the highest priority. Stabilizing the situation is the next priority, which involves a hazard assessment. For a WCD scenario, the hazard assessment would identify critical infrastructure and resources that could be impacted as a result of the WCD. 

Response Priorities: Safety of human life is the highest priority during a response. Stabilizing the situation is the next priority. Stabilizing the situation includes securing the source of the discharge and/or removing the remaining product from the container (tank, pipeline, etc.) to prevent additional oil spillage, to reduce need for follow-up response action, and to minimize adverse impact on the environment.

In addition to the release and control measures set forth in section 3.2 below, the following should be considered when attempting to minimize effects of a WCD:

Health and safety are the first priorities. Responders should be alert to:

  • Fire and explosion potential from vapors at or near the spill site;
  • Potential toxic effects from the spill and chemical countermeasures;
  • Proper use of safety equipment;
  • Hyperthermia, hypothermia, frostbite, or sunburn;
  • Small boat safety;
  • Helicopter and aircraft safety.

Speed is essential in recovery efforts. Responders should keep in mind the following:

  • Oil spreads and drifts rapidly; delays will rapidly increase the area needing cleanup.
  • If in-situ burning is a desirable alternative and a viable option, begin the ignition as early as possible to minimize potential for evaporation and emulsification.
  • Oil is usually easier to deal with on water than after it has contacted the shore.
  • Because any proposal for in-situ burning requires consultation with the Federal OSC, the State’s member of the RRT, federal and state natural resource trustees, and the State’s air permitting agency, development of a comprehensive proposal early in the spill response phase is desirable.

Cleanup Priorities

The nine oil spill remediation steps in response to a WCD are:

  1. Stop the discharge.
  2. Contain and remove spilled oil at the source to the extent possible.
  3. Assess the amount and type of spilled oil via surveillance and tracking.
  4. Follow procedures defined in subarea contingency plans and where applicable facility/vessel response plans; modify them as needed; document all actions.
  5. Protect threatened resources and monitor shore-bound oil.
  6. Contain and remove offshore oil that has escaped the primary control operation at the source.
  7. Skim oil that has pooled in natural collection areas such as sloughs and coves.
  8. Clean up shorelines where oil has stranded, to the extent possible and advisable.
  9. Dispose of collected materials in accordance with applicable regulations.

Region 5 Area response expertise that can be utilized for a response in all subareas are listed in the table below. The SACPs may contain additional subarea-specific experts.



Area of Expertise

Contact Email

Contact Phone

Brian Cooper


  • GIS
  • Data Management


(312) 353-8651

Dr. Faith Fitzpatrick

United States Geological Survey (USGS)

  • Fluvial Geomorphology


(608) 821-3818

Greg Powell

EPA Environmental Response Team (ERT)

  • Oil Spill Dynamics and Behavior


(859) 594-6549

Deborah Millsap

Ohio Field Office - United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation


614-416-8339 x14

Dan Sparks

Indiana Field Office - USFWS

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation


812 334-4261 x219

Dr. Lisa Williams

Michigan Field Office - USFWS

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation


(517) 351-8324

Betsy Galbraith

Wisconsin/Minnesota Field Offices - USFWS

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation


(920) 866-1753

Aleshia Kenney

Illinois Field Office

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation


309-757-5800 x218

Ed Karecki

Chicago, IL Field Office - USFWS

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation



Annette Trowbridge

Great Lakes Regional Office - USFWS

  • Natural Resource Damage Assessment
  • Wildlife Recovery and Rehabilitation




Region 5 Area response personnel and equipment that can be utilized for any response, including addressing a WCD, are available through EPA Region 5 Emergency Response Contracts (ERRS) and Technical Assistance Contracts (START).

In addition to these contracts, Region 5 has the ability to secure response contract capacity from the nine other EPA Regions and can call upon the response contracting systems of all the other federal agencies who are members of the National Response System. Section 4.2 of this RCP/ACP describes other available technical support. Each SACP may also contain a list of equipment (including firefighting equipment), dispersants, or other mitigating substances and devices, and personnel available to an owner or operator and federal, state, and local agencies, to ensure an effective and immediate removal of a discharge, and to ensure mitigation or prevention of a substantial threat of a discharge in that subarea.

In addition to the experts, equipment and personnel provided by EPA, an OSC responding to an incident may rely on an owner or operator resources for responding to a WCD or other discharge or release scenario. As such, to check the ability of a facility to remove a WCD, the Region 5 shall periodically conduct Government Initiated Unannounced Exercises (GUIE) and drills of removal capability, without prior notice. Additionally, drills are to be conducted under the National Preparedness for Response Exercise Program (PREP), and may include participation by federal, state, and local agencies; owners and operators of facilities in the area; and other elements of private industry. This RCP/ACP integrates approved vessel, onshore facility, pipeline, and bulk transportation response plans through the sub-area contingency plans. EPA may coordinate with RRT5 members, Subarea Committee members, and other relevant stakeholders when planning for response drills as appropriate.


Shoreline Cleanup Guideline Matrices have been developed for the EPA Region 5 Area by the RRT5. These guidelines address the use of specific countermeasures on various shoreline habitats for four oil types. The shoreline types are listed in relative order of sensitivity. Habitat sensitivity is a function of a range of factors, including:

  • degree of exposure to natural removal processes
  • biological productivity and ability to recover following oil exposure
  • human use of the habitat
  • ease of oil removal

These correlate directly with the rankings used in the Environmental Sensitivity Index (ESI) atlases published for the U.S. Great Lakes by NOAA.

The classifications developed for these matrices indicate the relative environmental impact expected as a result of implementing the response techniques on a specific shoreline. The relative effectiveness of the technique also has been incorporated into the matrices, especially where use of the technique would result in longer application and thus greater ecological impacts or leave higher oil residues in the habitat.


Defensive actions should begin as soon as possible to prevent, minimize, or mitigate the threat to the public health or welfare or to the environment. Actions may include the following:

  • Analysis of water samples to determine the source and spread of the contaminants
  • Control of the source of the discharge
  • Measurements and sampling
  • Placement of physical barriers to deter the spread of the oil or to protect sensitive environmental resources through coordination with resource agency specialists
  • Control of the water discharged from upstream impoundments
  • If approved, the use of chemicals and other materials to restrain the spread of the oil and mitigate its effects, in accordance with the NCP. Use of chemical agents is not pre-approved in Region 5.

Appropriate actions should be taken to recover the oil or mitigate its effects. Of the numerous chemical or physical methods that may be used, the chosen methods should be the most consistent with protecting the public health and welfare and the environment. Sinking agents shall not be used.


Click here for Chemical Use Guidelines

The OSC must choose the best method from the available response tools in any incident. The physical recovery and removal of oil is the preferred cleanup technique. Under certain conditions, however, chemical agents can be an effective tool. If chemical use is considered, the guidelines below are intended to aid the OSC in making a decision.

EPA has compiled the NCP Product Schedule, a list of dispersants and other chemicals which the OSC and/or PRP may consider for use during a spill emergency. The Product Schedule does not authorize or pre- approve use of any of the listed products. Use of dispersants or other oil emulsifiers is not pre-approved anywhere in Region 5 and is not likely to be allowed because of the limited dilution available in fresh waters, the use of freshwaters as a water supply, the limited toxicology information available for dispersants in fresh water, and the limited information available as to fresh water effectiveness of dispersants. The OSC may not authorize use of a product that is not listed on the Product Schedule.

Sinking agents shall not be used in EPA Region 5. EPA Region 5 does not promote the use of dispersants or other oil emulsifiers as they do not work in fresh water.

The use of

  • surface collecting agents
  • biological additives
  • burning agents
  • miscellaneous oil spill control agents

on surface waters, particularly near sensitive wetland or water supplies (fresh water systems) must be approved by State and/or Federal Agencies. Such use adds to the potential for serious impact of already released petroleum products. This stance is necessary to protect subsurface water intakes (potable and non-potable).

The Region does recognize, however, that as a last resort, such agents may have some limited applicability. An example of a situation in which chemical use might be considered for reasons other than protection of human life is during the migratory season, when significant migratory bird or endangered species populations are in danger of becoming oiled. Application Steps for Use of Chemical Spill Control Agent

The OSC may authorize or is authorized to use any chemical product without concurrence of the R5 EPA representative to RRT5 when  its use is necessary to prevent or substantially reduce a hazard to human life. The RRT should be notified as soon as practicable. In situations where a human hazard is not present, the OSC must receive the concurrence of

  • the RRT Co-Chair, and
  • the RRT representative(s) of the affected State(s), in consultation with
  • the DOI RRT member (and, where the Great Lakes are affected, the DOC RRT member, where practicable)

before authorizing use of a listed product.

The OSC may consult with the NOAA or EPA Scientific Support Coordinator (SSC) prior to chemical agent application in EPA Region 5. The NOAA and EPA SSCs provide oil spill modeling results, interpretation of ESI maps, location of sensitive areas, chemical effects, and environmental risks.

The OSC will coordinate with RRT5 to authorize use of chemical agents on behalf of the responsible party. Use of chemical agents on a Regional boundary should include the appropriate RRT members of the bordering Region. The RRT shall be notified of any chemical agent use as soon as practicable.

Section 300.910 of the NCP requires RRTs and ACs to address the use of dispersants and other chemicals in planning activities and include applicable preauthorization plans that address the specific contexts in which substances and devices listed on the NCP Product Schedule should and should not be used.

Subject to the following conditions, RRT5 has authorized the use of socks, booms, pads, pillows or other devices which completely surround and contain one of the solidifier products listed on the NCP Product Schedule: ALSOCUP, Aqua N-CAP Polymer, CIAgent, WASTE-SET #3200, WASTE-SET #3400:

  1. Application of the solidifier product must be done in a manner that does not allow the solidifier product to be released from the sock, boom, pad or pillow; and
  2. The sock, boom, pad or pillow is not left in the environment for more than one week after contact with the oil; and
  3. The sock, boom, pad or pillow must be recovered from the water within one week of contact with oil or depletion of solidifying capacity and properly disposed of.

This preauthorization does not include preapproved use in Tribal or Department of Interior managed lands. The preauthorization does not apply to the above listed chemicals if they no longer remain on the NPC Product Schedule.

Solidifier preauthorization documents can be found in Appendix VIII. Chemical Use Checklist

The OSC/RPM will supply the appropriate members of the RRT with the information contained in the Chemical Use Checklist. The checklist provides information concerning the circumstances of the spill, trajectories, environmental resources at risk, and available decision makers with the information necessary to make a decision on the use of chemical agents.


The Inland Response Tactics Manual describes general tactics to be applied during initial response to a spill of oil in fresh water.


When vessels, off-road vehicles, or equipment is brought in from outside the local area or watershed, inspection and disinfection, if needed, should occur before vessels and equipment are used in the spill area as well as after. As such, inspection and disinfection need to be operational for both mobilization and demobilization. This can be accomplished with a Disinfection Group whose activities can be coordinated or combined with a Decontamination Group.

Appendix IX of this RCP/ACP includes sample Disinfection Plan for preventing the spread of invasive organisms from vessels, off-road vehicles, or equipment, including procedures, equipment and supplies needed, and a sample checklist for inspection. An incident-specific Disinfection Plan should be approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the relevant state agency (e.g. Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy) to ensure that the plan is consistent with current understandings of threats from invasive organisms.


The OSC must observe precautions when collecting and handling liquid samples for analyses, as the character of the sample may be affected by a number of common conditions. Standard agency protocols are to be followed in the collection and shipment of all samples.


All samples and other tangible evidence must be maintained in proper custody until orders have been received from competent authority directing their disposition. Precautions should be taken to protect the samples from breakage, fire, altering, and tampering. It is important that a record of the chain of custody of the samples be properly maintained from the time the samples are collected until ultimate use at the trial of the case. In this regard, a record of time, place, and name and title of the person collecting the sample, and each person handling same thereafter, must be maintained and forwarded with the sample. Form No. lEPA350051 may be used. EPA Regional procedures for sample collection, transport and custody are to be used for all samples submitted to the Central Regional Laboratory.


Conditions should be photographed to show the source and the extent of oil or hazardous material. The following information should be recorded in the metadata for each image:

  • Name and location of vessel facility
  • Date and time the photo was taken
  • Names of the photographer and witnesses
  • Shutter speed and lens opening
  • Type of media/imaging device used

The following link opens a PowerPoint presentation containing training materials developed by Wildlife Branch for webinar-based training: Wildlife Branch Training Webinar


Hazardous materials are to be handled according to RCRA requirements. Information can be found at: www.epa.gov/environmental-topics/land-waste-and-cleanup-topics


Oil is to be handled according to RCRA requirements. Information can be found at: www.epa.gov/hw/management-oil-and-gas-exploration-and-production-waste

Specific documents relevant to oil are located at: https://rcrapublic.epa.gov/rcraonline/#72