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Spill-Sorb soaks up fuel oil spill

What happened when heavy furnace fuel was replaced with the more eco-friendly paraffin at a textile factory
A few years ago a textile factory in the industrial suburb of Epping, Cape Town was re-organised. Part of the upgrade involved changing the boilers from heavy furnace fuel to the more eco-friendly paraffin. This necessitated changing the fuel storage tanks. More than two years later it was decided to extend the factory over the ground where the now redundant HFF (Heavy Furnace Fuel) tank was sited. Financial considerations dictated that the firm accept the lowest tender submitted and a contractor was appointed who, in turn, used the least expensive methods – one of which was to pass the menial task of removing the existing storage tank to an unqualified and inexperienced sub-contractor. 


Company stock records indicated that the tank was almost empty. The sub-contractor commenced by knocking down the bund wall during the month of February, when temperatures in Cape Town can reach the high 30s. He then disconnected the pipe work prior to lifting the 20 000 litre tank out with a crane. The day after the pipes were stripped, it was particularly warm (roughly 42 degrees). During the lunch break a plug of congealed HFF in the bottom outlet pipe gave way and (it was later calculated) some 18 000 litres of HFF burst out into the staff car park and most of it went down the storm water drain. The subbie’s foreman ran to the security hut to report the incident but the guard was on lunch. When he returned to the work site all the oil had gone down the drain. Out of site out of mind, he kept quiet.

That evening, the municipal pollution inspector was alerted to the fact that there was oil in the nearby river. A specialist spill contractor was called out and responded to the spill. Within an hour a team of trained men were on site building weirs across the river using Spill-SorbTM booms, which absorbed the heavy oil on contact. This proved to be an ongoing job for two weeks as the fuel oil moved slowly on the trickle of water in the canalized river, most of its length being under ground. As a result, there was a danger of gas emissions. The possibility of explosion should a naked flame or a burning cigarette butt be accidentally introduced to the area necessitated the use of breathing apparatus.

The Incident Commander ordered special large booms to be made up. These were set in three layers to every weir, each one being changed as soon as it was ‘loaded’ with oil. Spill-SorbTM fibre was scattered on the ‘pounds’ formed by the weirs and then raked off and removed when they became dark with absorbed fuel oil. As the spill was contained, all drain lines were flushed with BIO-SYSTEMS HSDG and the site gradually remediated.

Not a litre of HFF escaped the temporary catchment, thus averting what would have been a major ecological disaster in the wetlands down stream.

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