Roads hit by more than 1,600 oil spills

THERE were more than 1,600 oil spills on Singapore's roads last year, seven of which were so bad that they required resurfacing of the roads.

The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Straits Times this, after a spate of three spills on the Bukit Timah Expressway (BKE), Pan-Island Expressway (PIE) and Kampong Bahru Road between Jan 29 and Feb 2.

All three required resurfacing, causing road closures and traffic congestion for up to 12 hours in the case of the BKE oil spill.

Last year's total of 1,625 spills was 28 more than in 2014, when just two roads needed resurfacing.

Roads are resurfaced due to the extent of damage and potential danger to motorists.

Tarmac surfaces, made from oil-based bitumen, can be degraded by oil spills, making the road less capable of supporting loads or the movement of vehicles, according to Darren Waterman, Asia-Pacific regional director for global industry cooperative Oil Spill Response.

Before a road is resurfaced, various agencies, including SCDF and National Environment Agency (NEA), will first attempt a preliminary clean-up.

SCDF will first dispatch one or more fire engines to wash away the oil using water jets and bio-solvents. It will also close the affected road.

If SCDF is unable to fully flush the oil away, NEA will provide further clean-up assistance, including the use of oil absorbent pads and oil booms to contain the spread of the spill.

If the vehicle is still leaking oil, it will be collected in barrels.

NEA and LTA will then survey the road to determine if resurfacing is needed.

The police are responsible for the investigation to determine if negligence was involved.

They are currently probing the cause of the spill at Kampong Bahru Road.

In January last year, a spill on Paterson Road resulted in a 13-hour clean-up and resurfacing operation. A truck driver, 53, was arrested on suspicion of causing it.

A way to speed the clean-up process could come from the National University of Singapore. A research team, led by Assistant Professor Duong Hai Minh from the Department of Mechanical Engineering, has managed to convert paper waste into aerogels with high oil absorption capacity.

The aerogels, which are solid, are able to absorb oil up to 90 times their dry weight.

They are claimed to be four times more effective than commercial absorbents and reach maximum absorption capacity in 30 seconds.

"Absorption has been considered one of the most effective ways to clean oil spills," said Prof Duong. "Polypropylene (PP)-based absorbents are widely used but… their absorption capabilities are both low and slow."

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