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Sorbents Technical Information

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Basics of... Sorbents

Sorbents are used to absorb spilled liquids. Depending on the product selected, they can be used to absorb routine leaks and drips in basic maintenance applications, or they can be used in emergency response situations.

Regulations to Consider

  • OSHA 29 CFR 1910.22(a) requires clean, dry, slip free floors in the workplace
  • EPA 40 CFR 112.7 (c) refers to the use of sorbents as one method of preventing oil spills from reaching waterways and groundwater

Sorbents are generally classified as:

Oil Only: will only absorb oils, fuels or any petroleum based liquids. Will not absorb water or water based fluids. These products will float and are commonly used outdoors to pick up oil accumulated on water. They can also be used on land and indoors on petroleum based liquids. Generally these sorbents are made of synthetic materials, e.g. white polypropylene.

Universal: will absorb both oil and petroleum based liquids. These are to be used only on land-based applications where you want to absorb all liquids. Note that synthetic sorbents (polypropylene) are gray in color and can be used on virtually any liquid, water-based or oil-based.

Chemical: like Universal sorbents, Chemical sorbents can be used on any liquid, but are typically reserved for hazardous chemicals, acid sand caustics. Chemical sorbents are color coded green, although sometimes yellow, to identify them as being suitable for use on aggressive fluids. Note that when using Chemical sorbents on hazardous liquids, proper personal protective equipment is recommended


CAUTION: some sorbents, sold as Universal, are made with organic materials (cellulose, peat moss, corn cob, etc.) and cannot be used on "aggressive fluids" (acids and caustics) without danger of chemical reaction.

Product Selection Parameters

1. What liquids are you absorbing? Do you need an oil only product? Or a Universal sorbent? Or do you need a sorbent specifically designed for chemicals?

2. How much liquid will you typically be absorbing? This will help you determine if you need a heavy, medium or light weight product. It will also help determine if you want a pad or a roll and how big it should be.

3. How will you use the sorbent?How strong does it need to be? Sorbent pads and rolls that are going to be walked on or used to wipe down equipment need to be stronger and tougher than sorbents which are only being used on puddled liquids.

Typical Applications

Pads- under machines and workstations to catch leaks and drips, used also to "wipe down" parts and equipment

Rolls- for larger areas, under conveyors, alongside equipment. Perfed rolls can also be used as pads.

Socks- wrap around the base of machines and equipment to catch liquids at the source

Pillows- under machines for heavier volume, in hard to access locations

Rugs and Matting- in medium to high traffic areas to walk and drive on

Emergency Response Spill Kits

Selection parameters here are similar to those in the use of maintenance sorbents:

1. Type of liquids to be spilled will determine if you need an Oil Only, Universal or Chemical spill kit.

2. Can your kit or kits effectively absorb your "worst case discharge"? This will determine how large a kit you need.

3. Do you want a kit that is portable (can be carried)? Mobile (wheeled)? Or found in a pre-determined location in the workplace?

Notes on Disposal Options

Using sorbents does not change the nature of a spilled liquid. Proper disposal of used sorbents is determined by state and local regulations. Refer to MSDS on liquids in use.

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