Tag Archives: chemical spill

Moisture absorbent granules: where the magic happens when there’s a spill

They all do basically the same job, but picking the right absorbent granules for your potential spill requires careful thought. What might be spilled? How much spillage might there be? Spill Control Centre guides you through what’s available, and highlights what each absorbent granule is good at.

I can’t help thinking that, every time a customer buys one of our absorbent granule products, they’re ready to perform a little bit of magic because of the science behind the product. It’s as though millions of tiny sponges are deployed over the spill, which can’t be picked up, to turn liquid into a solid that’s easily and safely cleared away with a brush and shovel, or even a dustpan, for the smaller ones.

Of course it’s not really magic, unless you count organic chemistry as magic, because that’s exactly what’s happening. Key to the success of absorbent granules is illustrated by their use of cellulose, the world’s most common organic polymer, making up about a third of all vegetable matter.

It has a complicated chemical formula involving carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, which makes it a kind of sugar, and we know how readily that dissolves.

Science has moved on a little way from using cellulose, though it still works well, to use sodium polyacrylate, which can hold 200 times its own weight of liquid, and is found in disposable nappies.

A range of absorbent materials

The arrival of alternative chemicals means absorbent granules can be more easily tailored to suit the spill they’re intended to clean up, but their effectiveness is quite remarkable.

Take a 10g pack of granules for mopping up body fluids; that can absorb a litre of fluid, turning it into a solid for easy and safe cleaning up. Not only that, but it works equally well on carpet and solid floors.

Cleaning up body fluids is a specialised area, and involves far less liquid than other spills such as chemicals, oils, and acids. For these, different materials are available, made from particular kinds of clay and even softwood.

Thank Attapulgus for clay granules!

The clay, one of the types of Fuller’s Earth, has diverse names like Bentonite, Palygorskite and Attapulgite, all derived from the places they are found – respectively near the Rock River in the US state of Wyoming, in central America, and the town of Attapulgus in Georgia, USA, where it’s surface mined and shipped around the world.
The absorbing powers of different kinds of absorbent granules come with a variety of other properties too. Some are suitable for use where vehicles need to go, because they are crush resistant; some are guaranteed to be non-slip, and others are suited to indoor garage areas or haulage yards.

Products may also be approved by the Ministry of Defence or conform to European Road Safety Regulations. What they have in common, apart from their absorbing capacity, is that they’re chemically inert and fire retardant to BS 476 Part 7.

A question of scale

At the opposite end of the scale from the 10g bag of granules for body fluid absorption are 20kg bags of construction clay granules, which are available on pallets of 70 bags.
Between those extremes there is certain to be the right product to deal with any kind of spill, and they are also available thoughtfully packed with appropriate PPE to keep the user safe when there’s a clean up to be done.

And finally…

Absorbent granules have a role to play in every cat owner’s home. Cat litter is just one type of absorbent granules product with a very specific use – which the kitten in our picture is just learning about.

Cat litter
Check our range of absorbent granules to deal with problematic spills.

Drain covers can stop a drama turning into a crisis

Spill Control Centre guides you through how spill drain covers are effective and easy to deploy. The drain cover is a valuable tool in any company’s spill control toolkit. It’s a suitable investment for an industrial business because it protects you from the considerable cost of a fine and prosecution for damaging the environment.

The old adage says it’s no use closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. I’d beg to differ. My reason is to be found in a concept that’s been around since the late 1920s, created by Frigyes Karinthy, and popularised by Pulitzer Prize winner John Guare in a play in 1990.

Drain cover

I wouldn’t expect you to know about Karinthy*. (In truth, I hadn’t heard of him myself until I started writing this blog). But I’m sure you’ve heard of John Guare’s explanation that everyone is connected to everyone else by no more than six degrees of separation. In its broadest sense those connections take many forms, but they’re not all obvious. They even include the drains, because what you spill or pour down them is then well on its way to making all those connections, and travelling a substantial distance from where its journey began. And that’s why I contend, it is possible to close the stable door after the horse has bolted.

In the event of a spill, quick thinking and the instant availability and deployment of drain covers can stop it in its tracks.

How a drain cover works

The drain cover is a simple concept – an instantly-deployable flexible pad forming an effective seal, or drain protector, to prevent spilled chemicals and oils from getting into the drainage system and causing environmental damage stretching many miles from the source of the spill.

By sealing off the drains, and being used in conjunction with other spill containment equipment including absorbent booms and socks, they make sure any spill is restricted to the smallest possible area, simultaneously minimising or even eliminating environmental damage and simplifying the clean-up process.

What are drain covers made of?

The most common materials are polyurethane, clay and neoprene drain covers, but whatever you choose will be resistant to all but the most aggressive chemicals. A polyurethane or neoprene drain cover will be resistant to tearing, and their extra heavy-duty properties mean they can be used a number of times. The latter are a single-use option, but can be very effectively shaped to cover awkward shapes.

Between them, they are available in a series of sizes to suit all common drain openings, and have accessories to make storage as convenient as possible.

It’s also worth pointing out that if you have to use a drain cover several times, then it might be worth examining your processes to see why spills are being caused. The more often they happen, the more likely the next time, someone won’t be fast enough with the drain cover and to return to where I started, the horse will have well and truly bolted.

In worst case scenarios the chemicals or oils will be in the drains, and you might find yourself being prosecuted by the Environment Agency, leading to a very hefty fine. In that context, paying for a selection of drain covers and teaching people how to use them would prove to have been money very well spent.

* For the record, Karinthy was a Hungarian-born writer. The ‘six degrees of separation’ notion appears in his 1929 short story called Chains.


View our range of drain cover products to protect the environment.

Mineral Oil Spill blamed for bird contamination

Hundreds of seabirds washed up in an oil spill on the south coast from Sussex to Cornwall on Thursday 31st January were contaminated with a waxy substance that is now believed to be a mixture of refined mineral oils, most probably jettisoned from a ship passing through the Western approaches to the English Channel.
A major rescue operation has been launched by the RSPCA and other local charities to capture and clean the affected birds. Inevitably it is highly likely that many more birds have perished out to sea than have been rescued and even then it has proved such a major task to remove the contamination that not all the birds rescued will survive.


Preventing environmental pollution both on land and sea is now given top priority and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have sent a counter pollution surveillance aircraft to investigate the sea areas between Dover and the Isles of Scilly looking for the source. Shipping schedules and cargo records are also being scoured to try and pinpoint the culprit.
The fact that the captain of the vessel did not report the spill suggests it was not accidental and more likely to do with saving money. Let’s hope the authorities can track the ship down and prosecute the offender at least as a deterrent to others. Sadly as far as the Guillemots are concerned the damage is already done and worse still right at the start of the breeding season.
The incident, and the expensive resources put behind locating the source should act as a reminder to all those involved in the transport, storage and use of oils, fuels and other hazardous materials. It is a legal obligation to ensure appropriate spill control and containment measures such as absorbent products, bunds and spill kits are in place should a spill occur.

The Environment Agency is ever more vigilant and can force the perpetrator to foot the bill for environmental pollution caused by careless or irresponsible actions.

Conducting a spill risk assessment to help formulate a coherent spill control management system is the only sensible approach and will protect the viability of the business as well as the environment.

Spill control can protect your business

Accidental spills of oils, chemicals and other toxic pollutants have the potential to severely damage your business operation. If you are found to be negligent not only will the Environment Agency bill you for the clean-up costs you can also be landed with a heavy fine and the adverse publicity may damage your reputation.

So here is a 10 point plan to minimise the risk to your business the environment and your workforce.

Drain Cover

1. First make sure any potentially harmful substances are correctly labelled with an appropriate COSHH hazardous substance warning sign.

2. Put in place stocks of spill control materials and equipment appropriate to the spill hazards identified

3. Make sure all staff know the location of any spill control materials and equipment and how to use them.

4. Provide appropriate PPE equipment such as protective suits, fume masks, gloves and footwear so designated staff can tackle spills safely.

5. Protect environmentally sensitive areas by deploying drain mats and locating hazardous storage well away from drains and watercourses.

6. Preferably construct a bund around storage tanks and to divert spillages away from watercourses. A pile of earth or sand can be used to form a temporary bund in the event of a spill.

7. If a spill does reach a watercourse, deploy absorbent socks or booms to prevent spread.

8. If possible clean up the spill using appropriate absorbent granules, absorbent pillows and absorbent socks.

9. The materials used in the clean-up are also a hazard so dispose of correctly by removal to an authorised waste disposal facility.

10. If a major spill occurs, particularly of toxic or flammable liquids stop all work, inform the emergency services and/or the Environment Agency and move staff to a safe area until the spill is contained

Following these guidelines will ensure that if an accident occurs you can demonstrate your business has taken a responsible approach to spill management and control.

Assess the spill risk before you act.

At Spill Control Centre we provide practical solutions to deal with the inevitable accidents that potentially threaten either ourselves or our living environment. We all have a duty of care both morally and in law to ensure as far as possible, that our day to day activities either at work or in the home do not result in an environmental disaster.

When storing, handling or transporting known pollutants or hazardous materials the starting point is to know exactly what the substance is and its potential to cause harm. You can then put the correct spill control products in place to limit the damage should a spill occur. Environmental disasters involving spills are easier to deal with than atmospheric pollution and given that our Earth‘s impressive capacity to heal itself must have limits, the consequences could be far reaching.

OzoneBack in the nineteen eighties the big environmental disaster story of the day was the depletion of the Ozone layer that protects us from the suns radiation. Scientists put it down to CFC’s, the complex fluorocarbons used in refrigerators and aerosols. The climate predictions at the time were dire and led to the Montreal protocol the first and most successful global environmental protection agreement to ban CFC’s. Even then because of the time it took for CFC’s emitted at ground level to reach the upper ozone layer the same scientists estimated it would take 50 years for the” hole” to repair itself even with the ban.

The doom mongers were baffled when the hole closed in less than 10 years suggesting CFC’s were not to blame and more likely it was a natural cycle. Today of course all this is long forgotten and Climate scientists have moved on to global warming. It is therefore ironic that a study published recently by the University of East Anglia claims that the chemicals, including Hydrofluorocarbons and Perfluorocarbons, promoted as replacements for CFC’s in refrigerators and other applications are responsible for close to 20% of the global warming we are experiencing.

Apparently there are safe cost effective alternatives to these chemicals which begs the question why they were not used in the first place. As I commented the starting point in pollution prevention is to know exactly what the environmental hazard is before you take the big decisions.