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The behaviour of a substance spilt at sea is the way in which it is altered during the first few hours after coming into contact with water. Predicting this behaviour is one of the most important stages in the development of a response strategy. The Standard European Behaviour Classification (SEBC) determines the theoretical behaviour of a substance according to its physical and chemical properties, and classifies it into one of five main:

  • gases (G ),
  • evaporators (E),
  • floaters (F),
  • dissolvers (D),
  • sinkers (S).

Most of the time, a substance does not have one single behaviour but rather several behaviours due to its nature and environmental processes (wind, waves, current). For example, ethyl acrylate* is classified as FED as it floats, evaporates and dissolves. However, the SEBC code has its limits. It is based on experiments conducted in the laboratory on pure products at a temperature of 20°C in fresh water. These conditions are quite different from those encountered in the case of incidents at sea, and the actual behaviour of the product may be quite different from its theoretical behaviour. Yet the SEBC code remains a valuable tool for use in the elaboration of spill response strategies, although it is important to bear in
mind its limitations when using it.

Research into behaviour

The behaviour of hazardous substances should be tested on different scales, ranging from the laboratory to the field, in order to come close to the actual conditions that may be met at sea. Such experimentation is conducted in different laboratories across the globe, including at Cedre and Environment Canada.





Last update: 07/12/2016