Spill Containment and Absorbents

Trends in ... spill containment and absorbents

Coconuts and compliance

Workplace spills, whether oil- or chemical-related, require immediate attention. Here, industry insiders discuss what’s new in the spill containment and absorbent field, how mistakes occur, and how workers can best protect themselves when cleaning up spills.

Recent trends

Planning ahead is an integral part of one recent trend in the spill containment field, said Chris Iuzzolino, product operations manager for Tipton, PA-based New Pig Corp. “Recent trends have seen facilities using secondary containment, such as temporary or permanent berms and barriers around machines, in processing areas to contain fluids for bulk recovery instead of using absorbents,” Iuzzolino said. “Fluids can then be recovered and disposed of or recycled more easily, providing less waste and cradle-to-grave liability for the generator.”

Courtney Bohman, senior manager of business analytics for Milwaukee-based Brady, spoke of new substitutions for current absorbents. “Given tightening restrictions on silica exposure in workplace facilities, substitutions for standard clay-based granular using natural materials are beginning to gain traction industrywide,” Bohman said. “For those who like the ease of a granular absorbent but are looking for a safer, silica-free solution, some newer absorbent options use coconut coir to encapsulate hydrocarbons for greater absorption.”

Joe Davids, managing director and CEO of Cary, NC-based SpillFix, also pointed to coconut coir. Davids noted that coir has an “unbelievable capacity” for absorbing liquids of any kind and, compared to clay absorbents, is eight times more absorbent by weight. Additionally, coir doesn’t contain silica dust. “This provides a much safer spill cleanup process that eliminates carrying heavy bags of clay absorbents and prevents the inhalation of potentially carcinogenic silica dust present in clay absorbents,” he said.

Avoiding mistakes

As with any safety product, spill containment and absorbent products can and do get misused. For example, Iuzzolino points out that spill containment products may not meet regulatory or insurance carrier requirements.

“Often, users will purchase a secondary containment device to later find out during internal or external audits that the product they chose doesn’t meet certain regulatory requirements for things such as providing sufficient sump capacity for the volume stored on the containment unit,” he said. “Or, in some cases, they find out that the containment device is not chemically resistant to the material they intend to store on it.”

According to Bohman, another mistake is not using spill containment products to their full capacity. “Products should remain in place until a noticeable darkening has occurred throughout the pad toward the edges,” Bohman said. “If the user fails to allow the pad to saturate completely, he or she is losing money.”

Using too much product is a potential misstep, too. “Using large amounts of clay absorbents on sometimes the smallest of spills is the most common instance of misuse of absorbents,” Davids said, noting that this often happens because clay absorbents don’t immediately soak up a spill. “It must be left on the spill for some time, and this leads to the overuse of absorbent material,” he said. This type of overuse can lead to higher disposal costs.

Words of wisdom

When the topic of discussion is spill containment, knowledge is power. The more you know, the better prepared you are. “Understanding the chemical compatibility of the personal protective equipment and the absorbents used to respond to the spill material is essential,” Iuzzolino said. “Choosing improper products can lead to injury, or even death in some circumstances.”

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