Australian Mining Prospect Awards Winner: Excellence in Environmental Management

Implementing environmentally protective systems within a business is a challenge at the best of times, but the biggest success comes when there are financial savings coupled with the new system.

Environmental Fluid Systems (EFS) are an Australian com-pany that have done just that.

EFS was initially approached by Fortescue Metals Group to help solve worker health issues related to the toxicity of cleaning chemicals used to wash down locomotives, carriages and rail equipment.

The degreaser in use, which aided the removal of dust and oils from the FMG trains was having a disastrous effect on FMG's wastewater quality.

Aside from presenting a toxic environment for workers involved in the cleaning process, the quality of the wastewater meant that it was costing the company hundreds of thousands of dollars in disposal costs.

The design brief required EFS to devise a cleaner system that would be less toxic to employees in direct contact with the cleaning process.

EFS met the challenge by removing conventional degreaser from the work process, which not only made a safer work environment, but in turn created a more environmentally sound system for managing wastewater from their locomotive cleaning operations. The end result was a system that actually saved FMG money in waste water disposal costs, an added bonus to the requirements laid down by FMG.

In practice, FMG's locomotives have always required regular cleaning to remove the thick layers of Pilbara dust, which becomes mixed with fuel, oils and other hydrocarbons.

To remove this kind of polluted dirt effectively FMG needed to use a powerful degreasing surfactant, applied with high pressure cleaners for labour efficiency.

The end result was a wastewater that was emulsified with hydrocarbons and degreaser; a toxic emulsion that could not be decontaminated with a gravity oil-water separator.

The toxic wastewater had to be stored, presenting the constant risk of accidental spillage in the event of equipment failure.

It also meant that the wastewater could not be reused in the cleaning process, requiring fresh water for every clean, placing further strain on environment and business costs. The key ingredient to this new, non-toxic system was the replacement of conventional degreaser with the EFS product 'triple7 Heavy Duty', a bio-based , colloidal surfactant, which was combined with a range of other non-toxic ingredients designed for optimal wastewater quality.

Two main improvements were effected through the replacement of degreaser with triple7 Heavy Duty.

First, the new cleaner is a "quick break" surfactant which can lift oil, grease and hydrocarbon soils from surfaces without forming a permanent emulsion.

Once rinsed away with a high pressure cleaner, the degreaser releases from the oil, allowing the water to be separated out in an oil-water gravity separator.

The second improvement was in the function of triple7 Heavy Duty as a degreaser, whereby mixing with water activates an electrochemical structure called a "micelle".

Micelles energetically lift soils from surfaces with as much, if not more power than caustics, metasillicates and other salt-based cleaners.

For these improvements, no work practices were changed, excluding the use of a different cleaning product. Since the change of chemicals there have been no incidences of exposure to chemicals in the cleaning process.

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