Our guide to absorbents and why you need them

Having the right tool to hand removes potential difficulties in any job, making it simpler and more straightforward. But which tool for which task? I’ve written this guide to absorbents and their uses to help you make sure you have the right kind at hand when you’re faced with the clear and present danger of your own spill.

Whatever my neighbour was doing, it wasn’t going well. Crouched on his haunches peering at the hinge on his car door, I could hear only muttered curses, and couldn’t resist going over to find out what was happening.

He held up bloodied knuckles. “Look at that,” he said. “All because the people who built this car couldn’t use a conventional screw that I could tighten with a screwdriver.”

He’d been using pliers to tighten a screw holding part of his car door in position, but the screw head wasn’t of a conventional kind. It required a particular kind of screwdriver that he didn’t have, and was unlikely to need for any other application. “Over-engineered,” he said as he sucked his obviously-painful bleeding knuckles. “I’ve got all sorts of screwdrivers and spanners, but nothing to fit that.”

That need to pick a specific tool for a specific job led me to consider how customers needing spill control absorbents could pick the ones they needed. All the relevant information is on the Spill Control Centre web site, but because we’ve been thorough in presenting it, there’s a lot to get through. That’s why I’ve created this ‘pick me quick’ guide to which absorbent is right for which application. Every section contains a link to take you directly to the right part of the web site, where more detail can be found. And every situation involving chemicals or fuel needs to be considered in the context of potential consequences.

Just look at our picture – an uncontrolled spill, with associated environmental damage, just waiting to happen. I’d suggest that the dark stain on the jetty is evidence of a spill having already happened. How much of it went between the planks into the water?

Spill Control

Picking the right spill response

Containment: This should be your first priority, minimising collateral damage caused by spilled materials getting into watercourses, drains, and onto open ground. Drain covers are instantly deployable, and will protect the drains. To prevent the spread of spilled liquids larger tanks and vehicles are best protected by permanent use of temporary bunds or berms, but where these are permanent, they’ll need to be cleaned out regularly, especially in the autumn when they can fill with debris like blown leaves.

In emergency situations, portable bunds can quickly be deployed for the most effective containment. They’re available in a variety of sizes up to the Stinger snap-up berm, capable of holding more than 12,000 litres. We also have a mechanical drain cover, which is re-usable and ideal for protecting drains during routine operations like tanker deliveries, for example.

Oil: Prevention is always better than cure, so oil drum storage utilising containers with built-in capacity to catch spills is always a good idea. Bunds and berms may be appropriate, but for smaller spills and leaks the plant nappy is a most effective solution. Heavy plant can be driven onto it, and the sides will spring back into place; spilled fuel or oil will soak in, but water can escape, so there’s no danger of spilled material escaping into the environment.

Chemicals: Spills of hazardous and aggressive chemicals require instant response so we offer a range of chemical spill kits small enough to be comfortably stowed in van and lorry cabs and on fork-lift trucks. A range of sizes and refills is available, many containing more than just the spill control equipment, but equipment to protect the user too, like gloves and masks.

Water: We offer water spill kits, but that’s perhaps a misnomer, because these products are equally at home soaking up most fluid types. They can absorb oil and water simultaneously, in quantities of up to 900 litres.

Small localised spills: As for drips. Look for absorbent granules to spread over the surface of the spill and draw in what’s been spilled. Sweep up carefully and dispose of responsibly. Cellulose granules are ideal; fire retardant and effective, they’re made from wood from sustainable sources. Several sizes of bag are available.

Drips: As for small localised spills (above). In the short term, cellulose granules will do the job, but if you have a range of liquids that could spill, you might be better advised to pick Spill-Aid power absorber. It’s more absorbent than clay-based solutions, and considerably more absorbent. On factory yards clay granules are effective, since they are chemically inert, won’t turn into mush when they’ve done the job and can safely be walked on and driven over. Look for construction clay and industrial clay varieties. If you’re able to easily get to the source of the leak, a tub of leak sealing putty is extremely effective for a short-term repair.

Body fluids: Always a tricky one this, with an enhanced need to protect the person doing the clean-up role. That safeguard is included with our body fluid spill kits that are small enough to be carried, but large enough to cope with most situations, meaning they can be quickly deployed in large locations like shopping malls, sports stadia, and leisure centres, for example.

On the move: Carrying the spill containment product on the vehicle carrying the product that may be spilled needs an ADR spill kit. Our most comprehensive kit contains containment and clean-up equipment, and protection for the operator, as well as a warning triangle to let other road users that there’s a hazard ahead.

Picture: Kampee Patisena | Dreamstime

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