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The Versatile Absorbents (Neutralizing Polymers and Solidifiers)

Reduce Unnecessary Exposure To A Multitude Of Hazards

In any occupation today, you run a risk of exposure to a variety of potentially hazardous chemicals or blood and body fluids. Whether it is a chemical spill or a bloodborne pathogen spill, it can be hazardous not only to personnel coming into immediate contact with the spill, but to the environment, as well. This makes the cleanup and inactivation of spills critical not only for the safety of the employee, but to the potential liability if hazardous materials invade the environment surrounding a facility.

The truth is that every day in industrial facilities, medical facilities, nursing homes, dentists' offices, laboratories, medical device manufacturers, schools, buses, even your own home--we are exposed to chemical spills and potentially infectious bloodborne pathogens. Being prepared for any emergency becomes the key to reducing unnecessary exposure to a multitude of hazards. Let's explore the many hazardous spill possibilities and how your facility ranks when providing for safety.


Knowing which potentially hazardous chemicals are stored, produced, or used on site is the first line of defense in preparation for the possibility of employee or environmental exposure to an accidental chemical spill, according to OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard, 1910.1020. There should be Material Safety Data Sheets on hand and immediately available to personnel for every chemical stored, used, and produced at your plant. Not only should the MSDS be readily available, but each chemical storage container and vessel should be labeled with its contents and OSHA hazard classification. If during the manufacturing process another hazardous material is created, the pipes or hoses carrying this chemical byproduct to its destination or storage vessel for disposal should be marked as well, in case of a pipe bursting or leaking. This will alert employees to the hazards of the chemical they could be exposed to and subsequently be cleaning up.

Material Safety Data Sheets must be immediately available to personnel for every chemical stored, used, and produced at your plant.

Does your facility have a specially trained containment crew? Can you evacuate all unnecessary personnel immediately in the event of a potentially hazardous spill? If the answer is no to either one of these questions, steps should be taken to address these concerns. Use the OSHA standard 29 CFR 1910.120, also known as the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response Code (HAZWOPER), as a guideline. This standard outlines the type of training that should be provided and what type of equipment that should be available in the event of a spill. Finally, the standard recommends provisions for first aid must be on site for the treatment of personnel if chemical exposure should occur. If there is no such containment crew on site, your EMS/local fire department has personnel trained in the cleanup of hazardous materials; however, time is of the essence when addressing a spill and each moment that goes by could create a larger area of exposure.

Protecting the environment surrounding your facility may be as simple as having a product on hand to effectively seal off gravity flows of heavier or lighter than water liquids into surface-mounted drains, manholes, and sewer grates.

Using a large HazMat Absorbent Dike, which is highly absorbent and can handle aggressive chemicals, is lightweight and can be rolled up and stored easily even when space is limited to seal off a floor drain, is a cost-effective and easily customized option. Having a product like this to stop the escape of hazardous fluids from your facility by containing a spill inside the facility should be used in conjunction with absorbents whenever necessary, easing the cleanup and reducing or eliminating the environmental exposure.

If you have been successful containing the spill within the premises, an immediate assessment of the chemical is necessary to clean up the spill safely. There are solidifiers available to encapsulate the spill, preventing aerosolization while neutralizing a potentially hazardous chemical liquid spill. By containing the spill within the superabsorbent polymer gel, the risk of employee and environmental exposure has been reduced significantly, allowing the containment crew to handle, store, and dispose of the material more safely and cost effectively.

Other Spill Types

What if the hazardous material the containment crew is dealing with one that emits hazardous vapors and cannot be solidified with an absorbent polymer, such as mercury? The first order of business should be making sure all non-essential personnel evacuate the area of the spill immediately and the spill is contained within the confines of the facility. All trained personnel on the containment and clean up crew should be utilizing respirators.

Mercury is liquid metal, heavier than water, and by no means should it be allowed to enter a drain. It cannot be cleaned up solely with an absorbent. Treat this type of spill by pouring a solidifier around the spill and activate the solidifier with water. This will contain the mercury within an area from which it cannot roll. Carefully begin moving the gel surrounding the mercury into a bag or other container that can be sealed tightly, prohibiting the vapors from escaping. All mercury must be disposed of as hazardous waste following your state or local disposal regulations no matter how small the spill.

If you have been successful containing the spill within the premises, an immediate assessment of the chemical is necessary to clean up the spill safely.

If the chemical spill you are cleaning up is the vaporous glutaraldehyde, a respirator should be worn and the spill should be pre-treated with a neutralizer, transforming glutaraldehyde solutions to nearly neutral PH levels. When glutaraldehyde has been neutralized, it turns brown in color. The act of applying the neutralizer reduces the biocidal activity and odor, rendering the solution more acceptable for sewer disposal, and prepares the glutaraldehyde for biodegradation. The solution also can be solidified after being treated, which further contains the toxic vapors within the superabsorbent polymer, making it easy to scoop up and dispose of with the regular trash.A formaldehyde spill is another hazardous material creating a vaporous gas. A respirator should always be worn when treating and cleaning up the spill. By solidifying a formaldehyde spill, the formalin is immobilized into a semi solid matrix. The gelled mass then cools rapidly to minimize formaldehyde off gassing. Once again, the absorption and solidification of the toxic material has rapidly eradicated the dangerous vapors associated with formaldehyde, making it safer and easier to handle and dispose of by trained personnel according to state or local regulations. An acid spill must be neutralized before it can be reintroduced into the environment as waste. Add a solidifier that contains a neutralizer as well as absorbent polymer. Acids have a low PH, so the neutralizer actually must raise the PH to a neutral level. When the solidifier containing the neutralizer is introduced to the acid spill, the neutralizer begins to bubble while the solidifier is converting the neutralized liquid into an easy-to-handle-and-dispose-of semi solid gel matrix. Disposal in a landfill is acceptable if the acid has been neutralized to a PH of 7, which is equal to water.

Caustic or Alkaline Spills

Caustic or alkaline spills are strong base and have a high PH level. To neutralize alkaline or caustic spills, just add the solidifier containing the appropriate neutralizer. An alkaline spill (strong base) may require multiple applications.

Add solidifier/neutralizer to the alkaline spill, then scoop up the gelled mass and place in a bag/container for disposal. For the second application, add water to the surface and reapply the solidifier/neutralizer, repeating the cleanup process. Dispose of the neutralized semi solid gel as you would all regular waste at your facility.

Innovative absorbent products are the safest, fastest, most cost-effective method of spill cleanup.

Petroleum-based spills or waste (crude oil, fuel oil, solvents, paint sludge, PCBs, jet fuel) can be damaging and expensive to clean up, especially if they are not contained immediately and seep into the environment. A hydrophobic (water-repellent) solidifier minimizes environmental contamination when poured onto an organic spill or when added to organic waste prior to disposal. This raises the flashpoint by 100 degrees F, reducing ignitability hazards. Using an absorbent rather than an adsorbent makes for lighter disposal and less product is used, making solidification the most economical method for cleanup. Dispose of solidified petroleum in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations.

Blood Products

With the emergence of HIV/AIDS in 1981 came an urgent need for a safe, easy, and cost-effective method for the cleanup and disposal of blood and body fluid waste. In 1985, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed guidelines for the prevention of the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis B (HBV) and called it the Universal Blood and Body Fluid Precautions. The Universal Precautions guideline was followed in 1991 by OSHA's Bloodborne Pathogens Standard. This standard was designed to protect the nation's health care professionals, who were in a high-risk group for exposure and contamination to a growing number of contagious pathogens.

Solidifiers containing superabsorbent polymers initially developed for industrial purposes were reformulated, making them state-of-the-art for the cleanup and containment of potentially infectious waste during handling and disposal. Now, blood and body fluid encapsulators are found not only in the health care environment, but also anywhere there is a potential for blood and body fluid spills.

Packaging Options

Popular in laboratories, mortuaries, hospitals, schools, and industry, superabsorbent polymers have been added to tissue-based papers, enabling them to absorb the maximum amount of any water based fluid. Used in small spill situations these zorbs are so absorbent, the polymers in the sheets encapsulate any odor as well. There are even sheets that have the added feature of a polycoated backing for maximum protection against fluid penetration.

Innovative absorbent products are the safest, fastest, most cost-effective method of spill cleanup, and providing a variety of packaging options makes solidifiers versatile in all markets. Kits containing encapsulators in conjunction with other personal protection items are designed to handle body fluid or chemical spills.

Bottles of assorted sizes containing absorbent powder for controlled distribution, or pre-measured unit dose drop-ins for use in suction canisters, eliminate aerosolization. Fifty-gallon drums of solidifier can be kept on hand and used in the event of a major spill rather than a boom type absorbent or adsorbent.

article by K. Ticco





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