Category Archives: Absorbents

Avoid making matters worse during flood clean-up operations

Receding floodwaters around the UK could expose another issue – biohazards.
Those involved in clean-up operations have been urged to do the work safely, which includes guarding against infection by water-borne diseases.

Some firefighters fell victim to these diseases during the flood crisis, and those involved in the cleaning are at risk of contracting something similar as they bring things back to normal.

Absorbent PadsIncluded in the advice from Public Health England is the need for caution about being in contact with floodwater. It may harbour disease, they say, even though the risk is minimised because of the volumes of water involved. That means the water, and any contaminants it may contain, need to be controlled and not spread indiscriminately by simply hosing away – the ground has had enough of a soaking. Much better to soak them up properly using absorbent materials designed for the job, which can then be disposed of safely.

The government advises a number of simple precautions people can take to reduce the risk of illness, such as wearing the right clothing – rubber boots and waterproof gloves, for example – and always thoroughly washing hands with warm soapy water after each clean-up session.

Dr Paul Cosford, director for health protection and medical director of PHE, has said he wants to do as much as possible to help people to clean up safely. For guidance see

We have industrial-strength water absorbents available for anyone involved in clean-up operations, as well as oil absorbents and chemical absorbents for other tough spill containment jobs.

New oil absorbent uses nanotechnology

A next-generation material first initially developed for use in electronics has proven itself a capable oil absorbent for polluted waters. The new material Boron Nitride, or “white graphene”, is similar in structure to its namesake Graphene consisting of a Nano sheet of single bonded atoms laid out like a chain-link fence. A recent research report claims that when these sheets are combined it forms a coarse white powder that can soak up organic pollutants such as industrial chemicals and oil.

Oil Spill

Boron Nitride itself is obviously not new to science but when arranged in porous Nano sheets, the white powder vastly outperformed commercially available chunks of boron nitride. In tests the powder soaked up as much as 33 times its own weight in the chemical ethylene glycol and 29 times its own weight of engine oil. Better still the saturated powder also floats on water.

According to the authors of the research these properties make these porous Boron Nitride Nano sheets suitable for a wide range of applications in spill control, water purification and effluent treatment.

The research is an extension of the groundbreaking discovery of Graphene, the most well-known two dimensional nano material consisting of a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a honeycomb structure. It is the thinnest material known to man and yet is also one of the strongest. Apparently it would take an elephant standing on a pin to pierce the sheet – not something you can try at home!

As was the case with graphene the key question is whether the stuff can be manufactured commercially at an economic price to challenge existing product technology in this case the tried and tested specialist oil and chemical absorbents currently available. It’s a long and no doubt costly journey from the research lab to the market place but we wish the researchers luck.

Choosing the right Absorbent solution.

A quick browse through our web site will show hundreds of solutions for tackling spills. The challenge is to ensure the spill control solutions you choose are suitable for the spill risks identified for your specific spill risks.

Chemical Absorbent

General purpose absorbent granules are a popular choice but you can further improve the protection by choosing granules designed for specific types of spills and applications. The New Safety Tread granules are highly effective on chemical spills whereas the XR99 Highway granules present a low skid risk when deployed on road surfaces and comply with European Road Safety Regulations. Similarly the Spill Fix loose granules are designed to combat all types of hydrocarbon spills and ounce for ounce have 50% more absorbent capability than standard clay granules.
The Oil and Chemical only absorbent ranges are not just different colour options of the General Purpose products although their distinctive colours do make them easier to identify in an emergency. For oil storage facilities, water pollution control, boatyards and transport depots Oil only absorbents not only attract and absorb oils (oleophilic) but unlike general purpose absorbents have the added advantage of being water repellent (hydrophobic) so they only absorb the oil making them more efficient and making disposal easier. Our specialised Chemical Absorbents for aggressive acids, alkalis and solvents employ chemically inert materials that won’t break down in use and, like the oil only products, are also hydrophobic.

It should be said that for small spill risks for example around industrial machinery, workshops and process areas, potentially involving a variety of hazardous substances the general purpose range will suffice as they will absorb water, lighter grade hydrocarbons and chemicals. It is when the potential risk to property and employees from spills or the potential for environmental damage escalates that you should seriously consider specialist absorbents in your spill management thinking.

Hopefully being aware of the options will help you determine the best choice for your application.

Molasses – the spill that’s also a spill control solution

When is a spill not a spill? When it’s molasses, apparently. This sticky by-product of sugar processing from things like the humble sugar beet, pictured, can Sugar Beetcertainly cause problems when it spills, though not necessarily as severely as it did in Boston, Massachusetts in 1919. That’s when a tank containing two million gallons of the stuff ruptured, disgorging its contents in a 15-foot tsunami that travelled faster than a man can run, killing more than 20 people and injuring 150. Thankfully nothing so severe has happened since, and when spills do occur they can be controlled using absorbent products like absorbent socks, bunds and the more usual spill kit of the type we offer.

But this Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde material has the ability to switch seamlessly, chameleon-like, to become one of the good guys and be part of the spill control solutions toolkit.
Off-the-wall thinking by the International Molasses Corporation in New Jersey has allowed it to be used to clean contaminated sites. The ‘Sunday name’ of the process is enhanced anaerobic bioremediation, and it works because the dilute molasses becomes a food source for microbes naturally occurring within the soil. They multiply, and use the infused solvents to break down into non-toxic by-products like carbon dioxide. (Of course Co2 isn’t entirely squeaky clean, but it’s a lot less undesirable than some pollutants). And International Molasses uses its food grade product, so it can be certain any contamination problem isn’t made worse by the introduction of other ‘nasties’ into an already-polluted area.

Does the system work? The 3M Corporation and Johnson and Johnson certainly think so. They’ve both had the treatment at plants in upstate New York and New Jersey respectively, and have been satisfied with the results!

Podcast – Advice on spill control industry regulations

People who run their own business and store oil or chemicals know how difficult it can be when it comes to understanding the regulations surrounding the industry. The rules are different within the United Kingdom. In this interview, Mike Claridge, MD of Forth Systems Limited tackles the burning issues around the safe storage of the materials. He also sits on a committee within the British Safety Industry Federation.

Mike, we’re discussing the regulations relating to storing chemicals or oil outside. Why is it seen as very difficult for people involved in these industries to understand?
We have one country and effectively four sets of regulations. The England regulations came out first in 2001 and they cover oil stored in 200 litre drums or above outside and the Scottish regulations came in four years after that and they also cover 200 litre drums but the difference is that they cover the drums when they’re inside the building as well. In a lot of instances the Scottish regulations cover waste oil whereas the English regulations specifically exclude waste oil unless it’s waste cooking oil.  Last year the Northern Ireland regulations came in and they are slightly different again to the  England and the Scotland regulations and there’s a Welsh set that are due to come in either early next year or the end of this year and the full details on those hasn’t been released yet. It does seem to be that the devolution authorities want to be different from everybody else just to stamp their own footprint on it.

That must make it very difficult for the companies involved in this line of work?
It also makes it difficult for industrial catalogues for example who are selling throughout the UK. If their customers have offices in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland they are having to deal with three different sets of regulations. Part of the reason the spill containment group was set up within the BSIF was to help the industry harmonise those regulations. We’re at the moment having discussions with Defra and the Environment Agency to see how that might come about.

It’s very easy to see how companies could fall foul of the law, in terms of how to store safely oil or chemicals.

Yes, the Environment Agency’s official attitude is that the regulations are a last resort. What they would rather companies do is pay attention to the PPG guidelines – the Pollution Prevention Guidelines that they have issued. The relevant ones in our industry are PPG 2 and PPG 26 and if you conform with those regulations you will not fall foul of the law.

So where can people turn to for advice?

Companies such as ourselves or the Spill Control Centre as well because I believe that they will have details on their website as to what you need to do to comply with the various regulations. In essence, if you are in England you have to keep your oil – if it’s outside and in a drum of 200 litres or above – on a spill containment product which will contain 110% of the volume of the largest container or 25% of the total volume stored at that one particular point. If it’s inside it’s regarded as a housekeeping product and in England if you’re container unit has more than 25% capacity that’s fine. In Scotland it’s different. It must be bounded to the tune of 110% whether it’s inside or outside the building.

It sounds very confusing.
It is to somebody who doesn’t have any experience of the oil storage regulations. For example, a safety officer, newly employed by a company with no experience of dealing with that, yes, it would be confusing.  There are places you can go to get advice and the Environment Agency’s website is a good starting point.

The weather also changes things within this industry. Why do we need to be mindful of it?
Funnily enough, in this country it rains a fair bit and there are certain parts of this country where it rains more than others. One of the things the guidelines don’t specify is when you’re storing your drums outside on a spill containment unit and thus complying, that if it’s not covered then it’s going to fill up with rain water. One thing you have to do is have a documented maintenance programme so that any rainwater dropping where your plant is is supervised so that anything filling up with rainwater is dealt with straight away. The easy way of course is to cover it and have your spill containment unit either covered with a hard shelter or a tarpaulin cover or some other device. There are various different products available which are going to stop your unit filling up with water.

So you can buy products which would enable you to keep products more safely and appropriately contained?
Yes and the legislation obviously doesn’t detail that. It’s fairly obvious that if you’re living in very wet areas of the country a unit that’s sitting outside needs to be covered so that rainwater doesn’t fill up. There’s no point having some sort of  unit if it’s got a small leak in – say a couple of litres of oil but then you have a downpour and the unit will overflow because it’s designed to cope with the 200 litres in the drum not 700 litres which might fall in a massive downpour  overnight. Your oil would then flow out of your spill containment unit.

How would the oil or chemicals be affected if there was a downpour and these products weren’t covered adequately?
The simple thing to deal with is oil. Oil floats on water, if there’s even a litre at the bottom of a spill containment unit and it rains the unit will fill up with water and the oil sits on the top so the first thing that goes over the edge of the bund would be the oil which is what you’re trying to prevent in the first place.

Does the cold weather cause a hassle for people as well?
Not so much the cold weather but obviously if it snows and the snow melts you’re going to have the same problem if your spill containment unit isn’t covered and it’s sitting outside.

If companies found themselves falling foul of regulations what could happen to them?
They would get a fine but also what would probably be far greater than the fine would be if they had a spill incident, the cleanup costs. That could be 10 or 15 times more than any fine that you might get for creating the incident in the first place.

Further advice or access to spill containment products can be found by visiting