Spills and effluent water around a shop can cause an operation time and money. Taking simple steps to understand and apply best practices and the right products can mitigate the problematic effects and make any shop safer.
If you work in a maintenance shop in the waste industry, you know that one thing is unavoidable—spills. With so many pieces of equipment and so many fluids around the shop, spills are a recurring event. The effects of those leaks or spills can range from dirty floors to costly cleanup, and the materials following cleanup must be properly disposed of. Aside from cleaning up spills, regular vehicle and equipment cleaning can cause additional mitigation cost concerns, depending on the shop’s waste and effluent water handling. Waste operations looking to maintain a clean, cost-efficient and compliant maintenance shop can take several easy steps to mitigate the impact of spills and wastewater on their operation.
Understanding and Mitigating the Effects of Hazardous Spills
Spills can take place in a variety of ways. Sometimes they occur simply from a slow leak in a hose, from over-servicing a fluid chamber or reservoir, or even, in a larger way, from a failed or damaged reservoir. Spills of oil, hydraulic fluid, antifreeze and other similar fluids are considered hazardous spills and should be treated with care—both in the clean up and disposal of the spilled fluids and cleaning supplies.
Depending on a shop’s set of operating procedures, there are several considerations that deal with workplace safety and environmental impact. OSHA guidelines provide accountability in the use of absorbents to help clean up spills. The absorbent guidelines deal with the hazards of the spilled liquids to workers, the safety of the material after cleanup, and the presence of silica or other dust that could cause respiratory or eye concerns.
While a more in-depth article on absorbents (“Industrial, Commercial Absorbents in Waste Applications”) ran in the May issue of Waste Advantage Magazine, it’s important to note here that shops should choose their absorbent with those OSHA guidelines in mind, as well as environmental concerns. These criteria include the spilled liquids’ hazard to the surroundings, if it can reach water drains or waterways and, again, what is the characteristic of cleaned-up waste and its disposal needs. Shops should also consider whether or not their absorbent can be reused. This feature allows for less absorbent material to be used over a period of time and results in less hazardous waste going to a landfill. In some cases, the absorbent and spill material (for shops using readily biodegradable fluids and absorbents) can be tested and sent to a regular landfill, further mitigating cleanup and disposal costs.
Fluid spills also leave hard-to-remove, unsightly stains on surfaces of nearly any kind. For shop cleanliness and appearance, many shops choose to remove stains. This process involves not only absorbents, but also spot cleaners to lift stains. To avoid additional wastewater concerns, shops can review aqueous cleaners, allowing for the removal of old or new stains without the use of water. In many cases, these types of cleaners provide a more neutral pH factor, making them more compatible with concrete and epoxy floor finishes. These types of cleaners can lift tough stains in applications where water, scrubbers and power washers are impractical.
One final step shops can take to mitigate the effects of hazardous shop spills is to use readily biodegradable fluids where possible. For example, biobased hydraulic fluids and cleaners can provide similar or better performance than traditional products for equipment or around the shop, but with a reduced impact on the environment and employees when spill remediation is needed.
Understanding and Mitigating the Effects of Hazardous Waste Water
In understanding and dealing with spills in the maintenance shop environment for waste operations, spill remediation can be closely tied to effluent, waste and rinse water systems. These systems capture or dispose of water used around the shop, oftentimes for equipment cleaning, spill remediation or parts washing. This water, after having been used for various purposes, contains oil, fluids or other contaminants. Like absorbent material following spill cleanup, the water should be properly treated or disposed of.
Many shops are setup to include rinse water tanks to allow for the reuse of such water. With the mix of fluids and chemicals, shops can use certain cleaners and products that allow for greater separation of the oils and fluids from the water. In cases where the shop’s effluent water enters the public water and treatment system, local and municipal regulations may apply under MS4 (municipal separate storm sewer systems) permits.
In some cases, fines may be imposed against operations whose effluent water contains certain levels of emulsified—or homogenous—contaminants. Using demulsifying cleaners—cleaners that help separate oil and water—helps effluent water meet the proper quality standards so that public water systems are able to treat the water. In some areas, MS4 permits may soon include municipal vehicle storage and washing.
One additional solution for parts washing in particular is to use cleaner that is water-based and contains a moderate pH level for reduced irritant risk for employees. These solutions are less flammable and require less cleanup for remediation if spilled. Other criteria to consider for parts washing cleaners are the level of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and whether or not the cleaner contains harmful solvents.
Ultimately, spills and effluent water around a shop can cause an operation time and money. Taking simple steps to understand and apply best practices and the right products can mitigate the problematic effects and make any shop safer for employees, the community and the environment—while benefitting the operation’s bottom line.