Workplace Solutions Facility safety Spills

Environmentally sound spill containment

At my facility, many areas have small leaks and drips outdoors that represent either an environmental risk or a slip, trip and fall hazard due to the slick surface they create. When dealing with these small hydrocarbon spills in the rain or on waters, are there any products or solutions that absorb the oil while allowing clean water to filter through, or other solutions to keep my employees safe?

Photo: Meltblown Technologies

Responding is Derek Yurgaitis, president, Meltblown Technologies, Alpharetta, GA.

This truly is a big concern, as small hydrocarbon leaks and drips on outdoor equipment present special challenges when mixed with precipitation and condensation. Very often, in addition to the environmental hazard, they can create slick surfaces where workers can slip and become injured. Similar to your facility’s SPCC (Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasures) plan, you should think about these small leaks and drips in two ways: How do I control these small leaks, and how do I contain them once they occur?

Some facilities try to collect the drips by placing pails, buckets and other pop-up vessels under the leak. Although these methods do collect leaks, they also fill up with rainwater. The hydrocarbons float on top and eventually spill out of the pail, creating environmental and safety risks. Workers must pay constant attention to emptying the buckets of oily water (which cannot go right down the drain), then safely transport them to a wastewater collection area. As you can imagine, this process is costly from both the labor and disposal standpoint.

Depending on the environment, placing oil-only sorbent pads, pillows, booms or socks aimed at collecting oil before it reaches a walkway can keep both the worker safe and the environment clean. The benefit of these products is that they are quick to deploy and replace with the added benefit of providing a slip-free surface for employees. However, there can be challenges with this method in windy or high-precipitation areas, as lightweight products can blow away in the wind and they become saturated quickly. Once saturated with oil or covered with precipitation, excess oil can float away. Additionally, plant personnel must pay constant attention to replace these products routinely.

Fortunately, some innovative technologies can help solve this problem. Spilltration (spill-filtration) is a new class of products that are designed to collect and absorb hydrocarbons while allowing clean rainwater to filter through. They typically have a rugged base that is heavy enough so as not to blow away, and a liner material tucked inside a permeable berm that is attached to its base. These new products can stay in the elements for long periods of time, containing oil and allowing clean water to pass through, which significantly reduces the labor involved with monitoring and replacing. As a bonus, these products are can be made from 100 percent post-industrial recycled materials. The special fibers in these products hold onto oil and let clean, clear rainwater filter through while lasting 300 percent to 400 percent longer than traditional oil-only materials. In addition, they can be wrung out and reused up to 10 times.

The key to solving your particular situation is understanding which solution works best for you. The ultimate goal is protecting the environment in a manner that also is creating a safe environment for your employees. I would highly recommend working closely with a spill control professional for a cost-benefit analysis on which products would work best in your environment.

Editor's note: This article represents the independent views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

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