WHEN IT COMES TO CHEMICAL SPILLS, PREVENTION BEATS CLEAN-UP
If you call up, “chemical spills and equipment” on your computer search using Yahoo and Google you’ll find more than 5million references that include spill kits, containers, pigs, response carts, caddies, absorbents, drum accessories, gloves, safety kits, leak diverters, spill and drain barriers, wipers, duffel bags, portable spill warehouses for big hazardous spills and many additional items related to the building of berms and dikes in anticipation of spills. There may be no substitute for planned maintenance programs that include pipeline inspection for joint leaks and spills during equipment removal due to corrosion or performance failure, or the installation of new chemical fluid lines, but one thing is sure. All companies, big or small, that use aggressive chemicals in their processing operations or use product cleaning fluids for the equipment they manufacture, purchase those chemicals in 55 gallon drums which are stored in special rooms or in some cases, if the chemicals are not noxious or hazardous, are stored in an area close to where they are used.
The majority of spill problems are involved with getting the chemicals out of the drums. A large number of small to moderate sized companies rely on workmen to manually lift and tip the 55 gallon drum and pour the chemical into a smaller drum, or use a fork lift for lifting and tipping the contents directly into another container, the cleaning tank or a process vess
el. In either case, spills are inevitable, and spill kits with related mats, pigs, berms and related equipment are necessary. This is obviously true if they are pouring from the 55 gallon drum into a smaller vessel. Overflow is difficult, almost impossible to avoid. If the drum has a faucet, it must be manually lifted to assure it is completely drained. If the faucet has clogged, it must be removed and the remainder emptied. That’s a strong invitation to troublesome spills, and incomplete drainage that ends up with the throw-away of costly chemicals.
All of these manual solutions to the problem of drum emptying frequently end up with spills that present management with problems that are OSHA related to work safety or to EPA regulations because of the dangers inherent from fumes emanating from those hazardous and/or noxious chemicals that are not contained. Plant management is never happy with the loss of costly, usable chemicals, particularly when a low-cost, preventive approach exists. The popular saying that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” makes a lot of sense.
That “ounce of prevention” can be found with the use of inexpensive pumps, instead of human strength, in conjunction with mechanical lifting equipment. But the pumps must be able to handle the great variety of aggressive chemicals that are being supplied in 55 gallon drums…and do it without corroding or without contaminating those chemicals where high purity is involved. In addition, electrically operated pumps present an unnecessary fire danger that must be considered. The pumps selected for transferring these chemicals from drums to other containers or directly into processing equipment must be low in initial cost, easy to repair and maintain, readily available and simple to use. The following pump types are the major non-electric, nonmetallic drum-emptying devices that are currently in use. Here’s how they compare in cost and performance.
- PULL ACTION PUMP
These pumps operate from the top of the drum. They include a discharge hose that runs down the side and enters into the smaller container. They use an internal plunger that must be pulled up and pushed down to create the suction needed to create and maintain the flow. The fluid flow is erratic and unsteady, emerging with a pulsing, spitting action that can prove a safety hazard. The transfer output with a 2” bung adapter can be up to 22 ounces per stroke and the volume depends on the strength and repetitive action of the employee. They range in price from $30.00 to $85.00, have a short operating life, are not field repairable and need to be replaced on a regular basis.
- PUSH ACTION PUMP
Similar in action to Pull Action pumps, these units require a simple up and down action created merely by pushing on the top of the pump. They come with a siphon tube long enough to reach the bottom of the drum. They generally deliver up to 8 ounces per stroke, which makes transferring large quantities very time consuming. They range in price from $12 -55 per unit, are not field repairable and generally require replacement after a few months.
- ROTARY ACTION PUMP
This type of pump is threaded into the top of a drum. They are activated by a crank handle which as it turns it builds up the suction and starts the flow. It requires constant cranking to maintain the flow and accurate timing is necessary to avoid spillage when stopping the flow. This is very critical when filling a small container. These pumps offer a transfer rate of 5-20 gallons per minute. They are field repairable but they break down frequently and it is often more convenient and economical to purchase a new pump when the unit fails because the spare parts available cost very close to the original unit which runs $55 -$175 per pump.
- PRESSURE ACTION PUMP
This pump design is mounted on the top of the drum and is held in place with an airtight rubber compression fitting. Pressure is added by simply pumping the piston several times. This automatically prepares the fluid to flow. Opening the spring-loaded tap starts the flow and closing the tap stops it. Pressure needs to be added from time to time to keep it flowing. Fluids are dispensed in a smooth, continuous stream at rates to 4.5 gallons per minute. An internal safety design relieves pressure if the vessel reaches 7psi. This meets UN safety standards. These rugged, all plastic pumps, at a cost of $250 to $355 per unit, have a life expectancy of 10 years and an extremely low anticipated maintenance cost for an annual or bi-annual change of an O-ring. Identified by their trade name, GoatThroat, the pumps are furnished with all fluid contact components made of polypropylene, a thermoplastic material that is light in weight, will not corrode, and is widely used in the chemical, pharmaceutical, food and other process industries that require resistance over a broad pH range of acids and caustics as well as solvents.
The four nonmetallic pumps described above make it clear that when it comes to solving the problems of handling the environmental and workplace problems created by chemical spills, prevention beats clean-up by a wide margin.