By Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB
Tom Ray Consulting
NEW YORK — Some people tend to think I’m crazy – just ask my wife. But there are times when you simply need a good old common every day item to get the job done.
I visited a transmitter facility recently to find the Engineer looking somewhat perplexed. And the building smelling like a truck stop. Visiting the generator room showed a puddle of diesel fuel on the floor. Oops.
First things first. Looking outside the building showed that the fuel spill was confined to the building. Which was good news, as if the fuel had leaked over the sill plate and outside onto the ground, this would be an entirely different article. So that was the good news.
The bad news is that, before we could figure out why there was a puddle of fuel, which looked to be about 15 gallons, on the floor, we needed to actually do something with the puddle, as we would have needed to wade through it to get to the generator unit.
Now, you may be wondering why we were even in the transmitter building with high powered devices and things that could create a spark when we had 15 gallons of fuel on the floor. Diesel fuel is fairly stable and doesn’t explode like gasoline, propane or natural gas. Diesel is, for all intents and purposes, home heating oil with a red dye in it to show that it is taxed. If this were gasoline, propane or natural gas, we would not have been in the same county with the spill and professionals would have been called to handle it. Gasoline is quite unstable and the fumes explode if provoked, i.e., if a spark happens, which can occur if a power contactor drops out in a transmitter or simply from the windings of a transmitter blower motor. Propane and natural gas, well, their nature is they explode, too. So, while smelling quite foul, diesel is somewhat benign to deal with, but it is a mess. And can be an environmental nightmare if the spill were not contained.
I said to the Engineer, “didn’t I see a BJ’s Wholesale Club near here?” If you don’t have a BJ’s near you, think Costco or Sam’s Club. Same idea. So off we went to BJ’s because they would have exactly what we needed – in a large industrial size. And I have a BJ’s card. What did we need? Cat litter, garage floor degreaser, large trash bags and a large shovel.
We bought 400 pounds of cat litter – 8 fifty pound bags. That got quite the stare from the cashier. I simply said, “You should see the size of this cat – and man, he eats a lot!” Then we got out of there.
Think about what cat litter does. It absorbs liquids. So we spread about 200 pounds of the stuff on the floor, gave it about a half an hour, then shoveled the soaked cat litter into bags. After we did that, we poured the degreaser on the floor, then covered that with cat litter. Again, after about ½ hour, we shoveled it into bags. You couldn’t tell where the spill was, as the degreaser lifts the oil out of the concrete, and the cat litter soaks it up.
And the problem with the generator? This station has an outdoor fuel tank. But under the generator is what is known as a day tank. The day tank holds about a day’s worth of fuel for the generator. This keeps is relatively warm and keeps the diesel fuel from tuning into jelly, which will happen in colder weather – which is why you should treat your diesel at least once per year with an anti-jelling substance found at most auto parts stores. There is a pump that refills the day tank when its fuel level gets low. There must have been some type of gunk in the fuel line from outside. The pump didn’t seal fully when it stopped, and fuel continued to siphon into the day tank causing it to overfill and fuel to come out of an emergency vent on the tank. Cycling the pump seems to have stopped the problem.
It’s good to keep cat litter around the site. Not only can it soak up spills, but you can use it for numerous things, like to put under tires in the snow and ice to get traction. Keep it on the floor overnight and it will absorb most spills and suck it out of a concrete floor. In icy conditions, if you need to wander out to the tower, sprinkle it in front of you to get better traction for your feet.
As for the trash bags, I advised the Engineer to go talk to a local garage and ask how he should dispose of them. They shouldn’t go into the normal trash.
Every solution doesn’t need to be high tech. It just needs to work and get the job done.
Thomas R. Ray, III CPBE, AMD, DRB is president of Tom Ray Consulting and Technical Editor of TALKERS. He can be phoned at 845-418-5065 or emailed at email@example.com. His website is www.tomrayconsulting.com. Meet Tom Ray at TALKERS New York 2013 on Thursday June 6.