Cleaning Spills With Spoils
Zubin Navsarikar
Prince of Wales Secondary
Floor Location : J 182 R

If the proposed Trans Mountain Pipeline is approved as it is currently planned, there will be a 700 % increase in the number if diluted bitumen (or dilbit) carrying tankers that travel through our pristine Burrard Inlet. It is home to a complex, deep water ecosystem of marine life. The water and mountains surrounding it employ more that 200,000 people.

It has been well documented that even with all the of the extra safety measures Trans Mountain puts in place, there is still a 67 % chance of a major oil spill in our Inlet, which would be devastating.

Current methods to deal with oil spills include using booms to block the spread of oil, skimmers to collect the oil, and dispersants which are toxic to marine life. These very expensive, heavy machinery dependent solutions are often late to the scene which makes them completely ineffective. Another alternative is to use floating sorbent socks at the site of the spill. Unfortunately, they are usually made out of some type of polypropylene, a petroleum byproduct, which is harmful to the environment.

In this experiment we investigated whether it is possible to clean up dilbit in our Inlet using natural waste products that are readily available and environmentally friendly. We felt that using sorbent socks offered the simplest, cheapest and quickest method to deal with dilbit spills. We created sorbent socks that contained natural waste products such as feathers, hair, moss, used tea bags, compost, cedar bark and laundry lint and tested how well they could soak up dilbit that is floating on ocean water. For testing purposes, we created a dilbit simulant that resembled dilbit in colour, consistency and behaviour on ocean water. Real dilbit is highly toxic and not readily available.

The results were very promising. Feathers turned out to be a great sorbent of dilbit, absorbing almost 8 times its weight in dilbit. Surprisingly, dried vegetable compost was also quite effective, absorbing 4.6 times its weight. Hair and Moss were also good alternatives. Tea Bags and Lint were ineffective.

We feel that the inevitable likelyhood of a major spill in our Inlet means that we must come up with a way to clean up the mess in a way that does more good than harm. Feather and compost sorbent socks are great alternatives to traditional methods. They are natural, local, waste products that are readily available and they can effectively absorb dilbit on ocean water.