Air Springs Supply  examines the dangers of hazardous and polluting spills to the population and the environment, especially during the pipeline maintenance season.

One of the most urbanised and coastal-dwelling nations on Earth, Australia is increasingly sensitive to chemicals, waste and other potentially harmful materials accidentally spilled in workplaces. Australia’s cities are particularly prone to the issues created by hazardous and polluting spills entering the environment through drains and watercourses leading to the sea, or seeping into the ground and contaminating the soil or groundwater.

The problem is also a major one in Australia’s rural and outback areas, with industries ranging from agriculture to mining being heavily dependent on often scant and precious supplies of water where harmful spills are also a major source of concern to both State Environmental Protection organisations and to national bodies such as Safe Work Australia.

In response to such problems, Safe Work Australia has introduced a Code of Practice for Managing Risks of Hazardous Chemicals in the workplace. The Code says companies must develop good handling procedures for workplaces to minimise the chance of such spills, and also have a spill management protocol in place to make sure spills are safely cleaned up. It stipulates that those conducting businesses or undertakings must manage risks associated with the use, handling, generating or storing of hazardous chemicals in a workplace, including identifying foreseeable hazards and eliminating the risk so far as practicable.

One method of stopping and sealing pipelines that is attracting increasing interest and application in Australasia for maintenance and environmental protection applications involves inflatable pipe stoppers that can be rapidly deployed, easily transported and widely applied in urban, remote, temporary and permanent industrial situations.

James Maslin, National Sales Manager for Air Springs Supply explains pipelines are a major component of such a risk management strategy. Air Springs Supply distributes a broad range of Pronal inflatable stoppers suitable for all types of pipelines including concrete, cast iron, steel, stainless steel and PVC.

Mr Maslin observes that the issues involved in pipeline maintenance and safety are particularly acute during the maintenance season over Christmas and New Year, when companies may be handling increased quantities and types of hazardous materials associated with cleaning, vehicle maintenance and plant upkeep, for example.

The common factor with maintenance, testing and emergency situations is that they need stoppers that can be rapidly and securely deployed to provide primary or secondary safety and environmental security as required by both Safe Work Australia and State Environmental Protection Agencies.

Sometimes, such stoppers are permanently located in pipelines for instant remote inflation with compressed air or other gas where there is a risk of toxic runoff at different stages of production, or where spillages occur. In other instances, they are used to seal off sections of pipe where leaks are occurring, serving the dual role of enabling pressurisation of that section so leaks can be detected, then protecting the men in the pipeline from any product flows while they work to fix the problem.

Visy Beverage at Smithfield, Sydney, a company committed to strong environmental management was one of the early adopters of this technology. The company installed a permanent Pronal OFR anti-pollution stopper as a precaution against industrial waste seeping into a storm water drain passing through its production site.

According to Mr Maslin, factors such as easy installation and the design of the deflated stopper, which allows normal non-polluted effluents or water to pass through the pipe when the stopper is un-inflated, appealed to the company. The stopper was also available at a fraction of the price of the gate valve Visy was looking at as an alternative.

The plug, which can be inflated in minutes, is used by Visy to prevent accidental spills from trucks or holding tanks that could ultimately pass from the drain into nearby creeks leading to wetlands in parks and heritage areas.

Another application of the Pronal product involved a national organisation serving both government and private customers, which had a storm drain extending through a production plant into surrounding bushland leading to a major waterway.

They sought an easily actuated large-diameter stopper to be permanently located in their main storm water drain so that, in the event of a chemical pollution spill, the stopper could be quickly and remotely inflated to prevent any pollutants flowing out directly into the neighbouring heritage stream. The plug had to be able to provide immediate protection in the unlikely event of a spillage, because the customer had a lot of vehicles moving through the plant and lots of drums of hazardous materials connected with manufacturing.

The storm water pipe’s inside diameter is 900mm and the stopper is permanently fixed to a central steel axis pole with three supporting feet per end, which bolt to the inside wall of the pipe. Supplied with the stopper was a surface-mounted complete control box with valving and control equipment. An air or nitrogen cylinder is installed inside the box for remote inflation, activated by pressing a large red easily visible and easily accessible button.

Protected by a polyethylene cover to counteract effluents’ aggression, the extensive range of OFR stoppers is available in standard cylindrical lengths of 950-2200mm, with ovoid, elliptical and other shapes on request.

OFR stoppers complement Air Springs Supply’s broader range of Pronal pipe stoppers used for maintenance, testing and emergency tasks in applications as diverse as oil and gas delivery, industrial and municipal water and waste water, and pollution prevention in mining, energy and industrial projects where sealing and testing operations need to be conducted not only with complete safety and environmental security, but also with considerable speed to maintain flows of liquids and gases.

For smaller diameter pipes down to 100mm, Pronal has developed a complementary product called OPAP Pollu-Plug, which in its un-inflated state is permanently mounted flat, conforming to the arc of the top half of a pipe. Once triggered by remote line, it will expand to fill the entire diameter of the pipe.

Ongoing protection against contamination of waterways from spills into water and sewerage lines is provided by Pronal’s OPAP and OFR Pollu-Plug stoppers, which are permanently and unobtrusively fitted in water and sewerage lines ready for instantaneous inflation by remote triggering as soon as an emergency arises in industrial, civil and municipal applications.

Different ranges respond to the needs of particular industries and pressure requirement, with ORJ types being used for pressures up to one bar and OPV types for pressures up to 3 bar. Higher pressure stoppers are also available.

Air Springs Supply has more than 30 years of specialist national experience in applying pneumatic actuation and isolation technologies.