How Low Can You Go?

Love Canal was a blessing in disguise. While the vision of a toxic waste drum bubbling up in one’s front yard is nothing to behold, this environmental disaster has proven to be a watershed event. This singular event sparked immediate public outcry, causing government, industry and the public in general to finally take charge of the future of our environment.
Almost overnight, a steel drum with a red “x” through it became the recognized symbol of the dangers of chemical wastes. Since the early 1980’s, entrepreneurs and inventors have been developing new products and technologies to better manage chemical drums, and tanks and to decrease inherent risks.
The “environmental containment products” market was spawned in the mid-1980’s with the introduction of the first polyethylene “spill pallets”. These portable devices were designed to capture leaks or overspills from drums, without sacrificing the basic material handling capabilities of wooden pallets. Several 4 and 2-drum models were developed, each with a height of approximately 17 inches. These units sold very well, as they met an immediate need.

Why Low Profile?

Within a few short years, DOD and industrial users realized that the 17″ height of spill pallets had significant design flaws. The tall nature of the spill pallets dictated that drum-top funnels would be positioned at or near eye level.
Pouring waste fluid into funnels therefore represented a significant safety and ergonomic concern. Holding a 40 pound bucket above shoulder height and avoiding face splashing of chemicals was a difficult trick. The push to develop more “user friendly” containment devices was on.
“We began tracking market needs in the containment products sector in 1988, the same year we offered our first spill pallet” says Frank Forney, Storage and Handling Products Team Leader at New Pig Corp. (Tipton, PA).
“We received customer feedback beginning in 1991 that a lower profile was desired for a multitude of reasons. These included eliminating the risks associated with someone falling off of the spill pallets while performing waste decanting tasks, and general convenience needs to improve drum management programs.”

Regulatory Requirements

The primary regulation covering containment is EPA 40 CFR 264.175. This regulation requires that “the containment system must have sufficient capacity to contain 10% of the volume of containers or the volume of the largest container, whichever is greater”. In most operations, a small number (less than ten) of 55-gallon drums are being stored in any one area. Therefore, our federal government would require a minimum of 55 gallons of containment in a product such as a spill pallet. The Uniform Fire Code (UFC) goes one step further than EPA, requiring 66 gallons of containment in the sump area.
The containment capacities mandated by EPA and UFC required that the early 4 and 2-drum pallets be designed with such an excessive height. There seemed to be no way around the tall designs.

Creative Solutions

Negative market feedback related to the tall designs energized containment product suppliers to focus on designing new products with lower profiles. Companies such as Lab Safety Supply (Janesville, WI) and New Pig Corp. introduced 4-drum spill pallets with heights ranging from 10″ to 12″. These products represented a significant improvement over first generation products – lowering accident and injury risk while adding convenience to waste management operations.
While users were happier with the new generation pallets, the real need of the market soon became apparent. Facilities were accustomed to the 5″ – 6″ height inherent to wooden pallets. Containment products which mirrored the height of wooden pallets would solve problems associated with higher profile products. The design goal was simple: develop containment products which featured the same height as wooden pallets.

How Low Have They Gone?

Within the last 2 – 3 years, companies such as Eagle Manufacturing Company (Wellsburg, WV) have introduced low profile 6 and 8-drum containment units which feature a 6.5″ height. These products meet the needs of customers with a relatively large number of drums in any one area. Because the footprint of these containment units is much larger than 4-drum pallets, a significantly greater amount of containment capacity is available to meet regulatory requirements.
The challenge still remained for users with a small number of drums (i.e. 1 – 5 quantity) to be contained in an area. How can a low profile, small footprint containment device have 66 gallons of capacity? The answer required some creative thinking.
UltraTech International, Inc. recently introduced a line of spill decks which incorporate a “hidden containment bladder” in their design. These units are available in 1, 2, 3 and 4-drum models. A “bladder attachment” houses the containment bladder which automatically unfurls to capture catastrophic leaks. The 5.75″ height meets the goal of matching the height of a wooden pallet, while the small footprint meets the needs of those users with a small number of drums to be stored in a limited-space area. As an added benefit, these models can be linked together with bulkhead fittings to create custom sized containment decks to accommodate any number of drums.

Cost Savings

Low profile containment products offer various direct and indirect cost savings. Because shorter units use less polyethylene resin during the manufacturing process, material cost savings can be passed on to the end user.
Indirect cost savings are plentiful. Fewer claims related to worker safety are an outgrowth of the fact that buckets no longer need to be held at or above eye level to decant wastes. Spill incidents decrease as drum handling is made safer. Loading and unloading drums is made more convenient. The potential for drums to topple off of a tall platform as with first generation containment products has been eliminated. In remote areas where powered lifting equipment is not available, drums can be “jockeyed” on and off low profile decks without heavy equipment. Several workers trying to lift a drum of waste from a 17″ platform and the associated injury risks have become a thing of the past.
The evolution of low profile containment products has offered significant benefits to facilities involved in waste collection and storage. Joe Eddy of Eagle Manufacturing notes, “We see the low-profile spill containment platform design as a result of the change from a regulatory compliance-driven market, to a customer “needs and desires” driven market. The customer benefits from this evolution with product improvements such as higher stability, larger load capacities, increased utilization and most importantly, lower cost.”