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Dilution Control: Closed Loop Chemical Dispensing Systems
During the last two decades, a major push by chemical manufacturers has been to sell chemicals in concentrated form. Although helpful for their own shipping costs, this change has led to a host of new challenges for custodial crews who have the responsibility of properly dispensing, diluting and using these chemicals.
The process of mixing concentrated chemicals isn't as easy as one might think. In fact, chemical injury often occurs with end users.
"Without dilution control systems, you've got people either using measuring cups or just pouring right directly into a bucket; 'glug-glug,'" says Leland Fishman, president of Fishman Supply Co., Petaluma, Calif. "You've got splash issues, exposure to your eyes, skin exposure and inhalation exposure."
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. institutions spend more than $75 million a year on medical expenses and lost-time wages for janitors due to chemical related injuries. Also, the EPA says that six out of every 100 janitors are injured annually by exposure to harsh cleaning chemicals.
With end users more susceptible to coming into direct contact with concentrated chemicals during mixing, jan/san distributors recommend facilities implement a safer, more accurate and more efficient way of diluting and dispensing chemicals. This comes in the form of dilution control proportioning devices that automatically mix concentrates with water and have the ability to dispense into secondary containers such as spray bottles or mop buckets, or equipment such as carpet cleaners, autoscrubbers and foam applicators. Dosing systems also manually and electronically meter precise amounts of concentrates into containers or equipment so the guesswork of diluting chemicals is no longer an issue for end users.
Distributors say not all dispensing systems are equal, however. A safe and effective dispensing system must prevent contact of concentrated chemical with end users or the environment at every stage in the process — from installing a new refill, to dispensing product, to replacing used refill containers, says Fishman. In addition to this containment, a dispensing system must enable accurate and efficient dispensing. This system should prevent leaks, spills, drips and workplace contamination, while also protecting end users. It also should eliminate costly mixing, measuring and dispensing mistakes by untrained personnel. Distributors say closed loop chemical dispensing systems do just that.
Closed Loop Technology
According to distributors, an effective chemical management system requires the integration of three components: the chemical, the chemical's packaging and a dispensing device.
Dispensing systems fall under two categories — partial loop or closed loop. A partial loop system features some containment of chemical, but does not offer exposure-proof operation during dispensing or chemical refill change-out. A closed loop system does enforce total containment of chemical at every connection and dispensing point, however.
In a closed loop system, how well the packaging contains the chemical and connects to the dispensing device is critical, says Don Schuldies, product manager/chemicals for WAXIE Sanitary Supply, San Diego. Closed loop dispensing requires connecting a supply of chemical concentrate to a dispensing device in a way that provides complete integrity.
This can be achieved by the connection system, which vents for proper flow and contains the concentrate to ensure safety.The connection system is where a dispensing system comes together by linking the refill container to the dispenser. The connection system contains the concentrate to prevent leaks, spills and exposure using a closure, oftentimes referred to as the bottle insert or fitment. The bottle insert or fitment provides adequate venting, depending on chemical viscosity and other variables, to allow dispensing without leakage, and prevent positive or negative pressure in the container, says Glenn Jackson, director of janitorial sales for Southeastern Paper Group Inc., Spartanburg, S.C.
"A true closed loop system ensures chemical containment throughout the whole process from installing the concentrate containers to dispensing the ready-to-use product and finally replacing the used concentrate containers," he says. "There must be no leaks, spills, drips or chemical cross contamination in order for the system to be safe and cost-effective for the end user."
If a facility's dispensing system does not come together correctly, the facility faces problems such as incorrect dilution rates resulting in poor disinfection or slippery floors; janitors getting splashed with chemical causing lost work days; and fines imposed on facilities for environmental damage by the EPA or employee injury by the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Association (OSHA).
The closed-loop technology significantly reduces exposure to regulatory authorities, says Schuldies. Distributors say that closed loop systems are safer and more economical than traditional chemical dispensing methods.
"With traditional dispensers, it was very easy to get chemical splashed everywhere when replacing concentrate containers," says Jackson. "Also, there was still a lot of waste going on. Employees would tend to go back to the 'glug-glug' method. Chemical dispensing technology is much more effective today than it was 15 to 20 years ago. It has come a long way and the demand for this technology continues to grow."
One reason why the demand for closed loop systems is growing is due to the green movement. Distributors say the green trend and increased emphasis on sustainable operations have generated increased customer interest in closed loop systems.
"As the green movement continues to grow, the demand for closed loop systems continues to grow also," says Jackson.
In order for buildings to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED for Existing Buildings Operation and Maintenance certification (LEED-EBOM), facilities must implement a green cleaning program. The green cleaning prerequisite requires safe storage and handling of chemicals. By implementing a closed loop dispensing system, distributors say facilities can easily meet those LEED requirements.
"To qualify for LEED points, you've got to use a dilution control system of some sort," says Fishman. "Anyone who is really trying to be green, diluting chemicals through dilution control systems is critical in accomplishing that goal."
Although closed loop systems promote environmental stewardship and safety as key aspects, distributors say customers are more interested in the potential cost savings that the system can bring them.
"It may sound terrible, but worker safety is not most customers' hot button," says Fishman. "The hot button for most customers is cost savings and the fact that the product is going to be used correctly every time. And worker safety although it is very important, and employers like the fact that it will make their employees safer, I don't believe that that is the tipping point. That's not the issue that is going to convince them to buy if there's not a cost savings and other benefits."
Fishman finds it more beneficial to interest customers implementing closed loop systems by leading with cost savings and proper dilution benefits before mentioning other benefits.
"When we sell dilution control systems, frankly, we lead with cost containment and perfectly diluted chemicals every time," says Fishman. "That's where we lead, and then we throw worker safety and green in on top of it. But it's the first two issues that get most people's attention."
Distributors say that currently only facilities with large-sized cleaning operations are benefiting from closed loop dispensing systems.
"End users that consume high volumes of housekeeping chemicals are the type of operations that are implementing this technology," says Jackson."
But as customers are looking to cut costs and streamline their cleaning operations, Schuldies says closed loop systems really are appropriate in all markets.
Wasting less chemical in any sized operation through proper dilution is going to help reduce costs. The added benefit of a closed loop dispensing system is that facilities will be practicing environmental stewardship, while at the same time ensuring their janitors are not exposing themselves to the dangers of chemical concentrates.
Find more information on dilution control systems at www.cleanlink.com/dilutioncontrol