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Absorbent Training Part 7: Lower the Boom on Big Spills

Choosing the right PIG Absorbent Boom.

Editor’s note: Welcome to the seventh post in our series on Absorbent Training. We hope you have found the series to be helpful in explaining the basics of absorbents.

Socks do a great job of absorbing machine leaks and containing smaller spills, but what happens when you’ve got a really big spill — or you need to clean up oil on water? Those little socks aren’t going to be much help. And that’s when you need to lower the boom.

Absorbent booms come in a variety of diameters and lengths to contain and soak up big oil-based spills on land and water. Here’s how to choose the best boom for your application.

The Long and Short of It

Most absorbent booms come in 10 and 20 ft. lengths. How you deploy the boom will help you determine the length you need. For a spill response team, 10-foot booms are easier to handle — especially when they’re saturated and heavy.

When you’re dealing with large spills on water, 20 ft. booms are easier to deploy from a boat. As each boom is lowered into the water, it will be clipped to the next section. Longer booms mean fewer connections.

Size Matters

Those big booms look impressive surrounding an overturned gasoline truck in the news footage, but in most cases, they’re overkill. There are a couple of points to consider before you choose a 3, 5 or 8-inch boom:

How much do you need to absorb?

Check the absorbency of different diameter booms and choose the one that best matches the spill you need to protect against. You may estimate needing enough boom to absorb 200 gallons on a paved surface, but if you plan to do that over 500 feet of boom, you can save a lot of money and still get the absorbency you need by purchasing 3” or 5” booms.

Where will you use the booms?

Water conditions are a factor in choosing the diameter of a boom. As a general rule:

  • 3” booms are best for ponds, lakes or small creeks and land-based spills
  • 5” booms are for creeks and areas with slow moving water
  • 8” booms are for more turbulent waters and moving water up to 1 knot

Regular vs Spaghetti

Spaghetti booms are made to clean up heavy, viscous oils on water. The filler consists of long strips of polypropylene that provide more surface area to trap these oils and allow them to be absorbed into the boom. Because the filler strips in these booms reduce diking efficiency on land, spaghetti booms should only be used on water.

Regular oil-only booms are usually filled with polypropylene fiber that absorbs refined petroleum-based liquids and vegetable oils without taking on any water. They have good diking capacity and can be used on land and water.

White vs Brown

White booms are typically used for spill response. Their bright color helps responders quickly identify their location. And, unless the oil product being absorbed is clear, it is easy to tell when the boom has become saturated.

Brown booms are commonly used in retention ponds and other areas where they are being deployed for longer periods of time as a protective measure. The brown color helps them blend into their surroundings.

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  • 5" x 10'
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  • 8" x 20'
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