IFAI provides specialty fabrics for GOM oil cleanup

(Roseville, MN - May 27, 2010)--More than 60 members of the Industrial Fabrics Association International are preparing products for clean-up efforts in the Gulf of Mexico following the April 20 explosion of the BP-owned Deepwater Horizon oil rig. The oil gusher at the source of the spill, located 5,000 feet below the ocean surface and about 40 miles southeast of the Louisiana coast, is emitting an estimated minimum of 210,000 gallons of oil per day with a possible maximum of more than 10 times that amount. Attempts to contain the spill and protect shoreline are in effect at several staging areas in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi.

Textiles and containment

Fabric components play a crucial role in oil containment efforts. Oil skimmers made of PVC separate oil from the surface of a body of water. Geotextiles and PVC-coated fabric are options for creating turbidity curtains, which can prevent oil from spreading. Hanesbrands Inc., Winston Salem, N.C., donated a less technical solution--50,000 pairs of pantyhose--for making booms filled with human and pet hair to absorb and trap the oil.

A more traditional containment tool manufactured using PVC or urethane is the oil containment boom, which creates a floating barrier to contain oil and protect shoreline. More than one million feet of containment boom has been deployed to the GOM site.

IFAI members supply oil boom containment materials

Several IFAI members are providing materials and equipment for oil boom containment production to help meet the growing demand for booms. Miller Weldmaster manufactures machines that produce oil booms and has increased supplies of these machines for immediate use at the GOM site. "The requests we are getting for production are for hundreds of miles of product," says Jeff Sponseller, executive vice president of Miller Weldmaster, Navarre, Ohio. Three T-300 machines can produce a combined total of 675 feet of oil boom per hour.

"Value Vinyls is supplying tens of thousands of feet of 22-ounce coated vinyl to boom manufacturers, as well as securing additional capacity to prepare and ship hundreds of thousands of feet for these new and urgent requests," says Randy Busch, president of Value Vinyls, Grand Prairie, Texas.

Cooley Specialty Products, Pawtucket, R.I., also designs specialty fabrics specifically for oil booms. "Critical applications such as maritime spill containment require materials that will stand up to rough weather and harsh climates," says Darius Shirzadi, business manager at Cooley. Cooley products for oil booms include Coolthane® thermoplastic urethane, Coolguard 24-ounce with DuPont Elvaloy® and Coolguard HRL 35-ounce membrane with Elvaloy.

A new textile to the rescue - Texas Tech's Fibertect™

Seshadri Ramkumar, associate professor of nonwoven materials at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health (TIEHH), says that the same Texas Tech-created nonwoven cotton wipe technology that keeps soldiers safe from chemical and biological warfare agents may also serve as the perfect sponge for sopping up oil that has polluted the Gulf of Mexico.

The multitasking textile is called Fibertect™, developed by Ramkumar at Texas Tech; and manufactured by Hobbs Bonded Fibers for First Line Technology.

Fibertect™ incorporates a top and bottom cotton fabric with a center layer of fibrous activated carbon that is needle-punched into a composite fabric. Ramkumar says documented research shows that the properties of raw cotton allow it to soak up 40 times its weight. "With chemical modifications, it can soak up to as much as 70 times its weight."

Its unique structure has absorbents that can tackle hydrocarbon vapor release and micro droplets in the water due to dispersant usage. So used in an oil-absorbent material it grabs the bad stuff right out of the water and holds onto it.

The fabric is also very soft and pliable, so it has tremendous capacity as a good frontline method for the decontamination of oiled birds and other wildlife.

"And it won't just stay in a landfill forever," adds Ramkumar. "Unlike synthetic materials, Fibertect™ is made from raw cotton and carbon so it's biodegradable and non-toxic. The raw cotton contains anaerobic bacteria due to soil contact. Over days, these microbes not only degrade the wipe but also disintegrate the oil."

First Line Technology President Amit Kapoor says that, "Fibertect™ allows for a green, environmentally safe, biodegradable technology that is perfect for the expanding effort to protect and decontaminate coastal lands and wildlife. We welcome the opportunity to work with the government, BP, or other oil companies in a joint effort to defend and preserve our planet."

Finding clean-up and coast protection materials

IFAI continues to update its website and LinkedIn page with the latest news and discussions of the spill. A list of suppliers involved in efforts to contain the spill is available on the IFAI home page. To be added to the list contact IFAI's Information and Technical Services Manager Juli Case.

What happens next?

Demand for specialty fabrics will continue after containment materials are in place. The Occupational Safety & Health Administration is working with BP to provide equipment to protect the more than 2,000 volunteers and 3,000 personnel working on or near the site from hazardous materials.

Once the booms are removed, they will need to be disposed of properly. Many bags of debris from the Exxon Valdez spill on March 24, 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska, were sent to a hazardous waste landfill in Arlington, Oregon.

A similar facility will be utilized to store waste from the GOM spill and will require geosynthetic materials to properly line the landfill. IFAI and its flagship publication Specialty Fabrics Review magazine will continue to track this story and the important role of fabrics in the spill recovery.

About IFAI

The Industrial Fabrics Association International (IFAI), is the largest specialty fabrics trade organization in the world. IFAI publishes seven market-specific magazines in print and online, organizes major industry events, and through hundreds of activities supports the success of 2,000 member companies located in over 58 countries. For more information visit www.ifai.com.