Time to Ban Clay for Oil Spill Cleanup

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The Silent Menace that Government Agencies Can No Longer Ignore

Every day in the United States - and beyond - government agencies, fleet managers, auto mechanics, gas and service stations and hundreds of thousands of consumers violate US hazardous waste laws by throwing clay-based oil spill cleanup products into the trash, bound for a landfill where it will contribute to the pollution of aquifers and underground water resources when it sheds its oil the moment it comes into contact with water.

Distributed under various trade names the companies manufacturing clay-based  products for cleaning up oil are among the most ardent of green washers, clinging to the fact that clay is a “natural product” assiduously avoiding the fact that the mining of clay is no more sustainable than the drilling of oil or any other finite resource.  But the more serious problem with clay comes not before but after it has been used to clean up oil. Contrary to what the manufacturers of these products would like you to think, clay does not absorb oil. Oil clings to the surface of clay. The manufacturers engage in a little sly CYA (cover your assets) by including in their labeling a misleading (but apparently legal) statement that users should check their local waste disposal laws before disposing of the clay mix after it is used to pick up oil. This allows them to avoid the decidedly less desireable alternative of stating that Clay products do not meet US EPA Guidelines for solid waste disposal – UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES – and therefore are required to be treated as a hazardous waste.  In fact they rely on the ignorance of consumers and the shameful blind-eye avoidance of local, state and even federal agencies. After all, if these agencies were to crack down on end users of clay-based products – requiring them to dispose of the  saturated product properly, they  themselves would have to do the same or they would have to switch to a sustainable solution and getting state agencies to do that would surely shake up some important good ol’ boy relationships.

While it would still be distasteful if these agencies were doing this because there was no alternative, it would at least be understandable. The cost of hazardous waste disposal is huge. But the truth is that there are alternatives available and those alternatives will hold the oil long enough for it to biodegrade without being released into the environment. This means that those alternative methods  can be disposed as solid waste in a landfill – though that is still not the preferable or sustainable approach.  Our cMOP, Maximum Oil Pickup, absorbent made from recycled products using hydroelectric energy lays claim to the most sustainable of those products - but is by no means the only alternative. It’s even less expensive and far less bulky than the clay products, Yet today Clay-based products remain the choice of businesses and agencies for no other reason than we continue to ignore and whitewash their rampant misuse.

This cannot continue. This MUST NOT CONTINUE. For all of those who watched in horror as events unfolded in the Gulf of Mexico spill, consider this: Every day the equivalent of a day’s spill from the Macondo Well is going into trash containers and dumpsters – contrary to Federal EPA Law – headed for a landfill or left on the roadside or in the driveway where the first rainstorm will wash it into the water table. Since Water is generally considered to be polluted with oil once it has about 10 mg/L of oil in it , one gallon of oil or gasoline will pollute 100,000 gallons of water – some insist that the figure is more accurately a million gallons.  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the collective actions of consumers and local, state and federal agencies threatens the water quality of the entire nation – needlessly.

If we could count on Agencies and enforcement entities to do the right thing and encourage the use of sustainable alternatives while requiring hazardous waste treatment for use of clay-based cleanup agents, it would not be necessary to ban clay-based products entirely. Unfortunately, it seems that we can’t. The only sure way to protect against this silent menace is to make the use of clay for the absorption of Oil, illegal. 

The adverse economic impact of such a ban will be minimal where the companies selling it are concerned because there are plenty of viable markets for the product – and in fact some very promising research being done by companies – including ours - indicate that there are some very promising uses for certain clay compounds in the area of bioremediation of oil spills and of course cat litter alone represents a huge market for clay miners. The economic impact of doing nothing, however, could be devastating. The cost to remediate polluted water, once oil or gas are introduced, is astronomical. The health implications, the loss of value to property, all  these are reasons enough for states to ban clay as a means for cleaning up spilled oil or gas. 

Now I am not a Pollyanna where it comes to moving government to do the right thing, this change will need to begin with a few conscientious legislators and community leaders, but eventually it will take hold and it will happen out of enlightened self interest . . . because doing nothing will cost far more at every level. In the meantime, it falls to us to begin the process. 

Ask the owner of the garage that works on your car or truck what they use to clean up their spilled oil. If they continue to use clay ask them to change and if they persist, change your mechanic. dddfddddfAsk your legislators to make the appropriate inquiries of state agencies and municipal officials to make the same inquiry of local agencies. 

Ask you legislator to sponsor or co-sponsor a ban on the use of clay-based products for oil spill cleanup and to require manufacturers to include a label that properly makes it clear that Hazardous Waste Disposal is Required for Clay-based absorbents. 

When you buy oil spill cleanup products for your own household, make sure that you are purchasing sustainable products containing no clay or chemicals. Through the moral authority of our example we can create a ripple of change that will eventually become a tsunami. 

If properly disposed at a hazardous waste facility, the cost of clay will be up to 10 times more than other alternatives. As citizens we can strike a blow for the environment  and our respective wallets by boycotting clay-based products right now and demand that state and local governments themselves come into compliance with the law. 

For our part, we are planning to raise sufficient funds to commission a national survey of states to determine the full extent of clay use by State and local government agencies.

Clay is fine for cats, NOT for oil. while there are more sustainable solutions to using clay in the cat box as well, we don’t worry about pollution from the cat litter box. Oil contamination is another matter entirely. 

Its time to ban kitty litter as a solution to oil cleanup.


About the Author
Wayne King is the CEO of MOP Environmental Solutions, Inc.  He has been on every side of these policy discussions - as a NH State Senator and Chair of the NH Senate Environment Committee as well as Editor of several publications including  Heart of New Hampshire magazine  and Going Green Magazine.  MOP Environmental Solutions, Inc. (MOPN) is a publicly traded company engaged in finding solutions to some of the  worlds most challenging environmental problems. MOP Manufactures consumer sized oil-spill absorbents as well as commercial size products. 

King lives in Rumney NH, the Rock Climbing mecca of the eastern US, with his wife Alice, son Zachary and his loyal hounds Boof and Buckminster. He is of Iroquis, Abenaki and Pilgrim decent and flys both the Iroquois and American flags proudly at his home on the Stinson Lake Road. 

MOP is an aggressive oleophillic and hydrophobic (oil attracting and water repelling) sorbent made from recycled and fully biodegradable materials, manufactured using small-scale hydroelectric green energy.  MOPÒ’s properties are such that it can effectively deal with an oil spill the size of the Exxon Valdez in a 24 hour period, but is just as effective at cleaning up the spill off a garage floor.


Their website is www.MOPEnvironmental.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/BanClay4Oil

Twitter: twitter.com/MOPSolutions

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