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Avoiding an oil spill disaster with help from Yellow Shield

Having seen the impact a large scale spill can have on an area, Yellow Shield hopes to educate businesses on smaller scale oil spills with its latest guide to absorbent products.

As the BP oil spill proved, oil spills can be devastating and the impacts of this huge spill are still being felt today, over a year later. Local officials in the Gulf Coast have just announced that the $1 billion set aside by BP to pay for the recovery of the area, is not going to be enough. Although this was a spill on a huge scale, which most businesses will never have to face, the struggle to recover from it is a wakeup call for businesses to think carefully about their chosen absorbent products.

There are three types of absorbent products to choose from:
1: General purpose,
2: Oil only
3: Chemical absorbents

A BSI standard (BS 7959 part 2) has been introduced which creates a colour coding standard for these absorbent products. General purpose absorbents should be coloured grey, oil only absorbents should be coloured white and chemical absorbents should be colour coded yellow. However a number of manufacturers have not yet complied with this colour coding standard.

The type of absorbent you choose will depend upon the liquid that needs to be absorbed as well as the location of it. All three absorbents will absorb oil; however cutting fluids, which combine oil and water, require general purpose absorbents which will absorb both liquids.

General purpose absorbents are normally used inside factories where there are only oil spills and no water is present. Oil only absorbents are used for outside applications where there are oil spills but where it is wasteful to allow the absorbent product to get saturated by rainfall. The other key location for oil only spills is anywhere where oil is spilled on water, e.g. rivers, harbours and at sea, and the object is to absorb the oil and not water.

Once you know the type, you need to decide the physical form of absorbent that you want to use:

Historically absorbent granules were the main form of absorbent and they still are widely used. Granules were considered as cost effective, but there are other cheaper methods on the market these days. Absorbents such as socks, pads and perforated rolls are now becoming widely used.

Absorbent pads are easy to use and are highly absorbent. They typically come in three weights. The heavyweight pads provide the greatest absorbency per meter squared at up to 15 litres per kg. Medium weight pads are cost effective and lightweight pads provide the greatest number of pads per pack often being sold at 200 pads per pack as against heavyweight at 100 pads per pack.

But in terms of cost effectiveness, absorbent pads are exceeded by perforated rolls. Perforated rolls allow pads to be torn off a roll of absorbents and provide the greatest number of pads per pound sterling. They are also very convenient and are gradually superceding absorbent pads.

Where spill containment, as well as absorbency is an advantage, then socks provide a barrier to stop the spill spreading as well as absorbing the spill. Where a more substantial barrier is required such as on a river around an outfall absorbent booms are normally used. Absorbent pillows or cushions provide great absorbent capacity and are used as an alternative to pads.

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