Chemical Safety In Enginerooms: It’s Important To Know What’s In Your Degreaser

By Bob Jaudon

Custom Compounders Inc.

The majority of degreasers used for engineroom chores contain ingredients that pose risks for people charged with their use. That’s not to say they won’t degrease, but rather to highlight potential exposure injuries to crew members. In 2008, a maritime operations owner interested in degreaser safety asked, “Could a degreaser be developed that is safe?” 

With his cooperation, a survey of SDS/MSDS data for industry degreasers revealed a significant presence of corrosive ingredients that can cause worker injury. Everybody has a degreaser. They work to varying degrees, and they can be inexpensively formulated with aggressive commodity chemicals. Competition helps hold prices down, but these aggressive products can also attack paint, a typical characteristic of low-cost corrosive degreasers. Here’s the problem: none of these products can offer your company any concrete proof they are safe to use. 

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Look at your degreaser’s SDS/MSDS. If Section 3 shows the presence of sodium or potassium hydroxide, metasilicates or butyl glycol ethers, it presents worker exposure concerns for your company. River transportation operations frequently choose degreasers from a “bottom-line” perspective, without a full understanding of potential consequences for their workers. While they can be used without incident, their corrosive nature makes them a candidate for Murphy’s law: “If it can go wrong, it will.” Surely that’s not the outcome anyone wants. 

The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) mandates the manufacturer of a chemically corrosive product to inform the buyer of hazards associated with its use. Similarly, the buyer must inform workers whose job responsibilities include the use of corrosive degreasers. This CFR ruling is not satisfied with nicely worded directions or precautionary statements. CFR outlines legal obligations to inform, teach and educate the user. How many manufacturers meet that obligation? 

In numerous articles, the American Academy of Ophthalmology emphasizes that serious or permanent eye damage can occur almost immediately with exposure to highly alkaline chemicals. The presence of caustics and a high alkaline pH can cause severe and immediate eye damage. Low-cost alkaline degreasers that attack paint are perfect examples.

The Jones Act provides a “right for trial” in state or federal court to any mariner injured during the course of duty. While the odds for such a happening are low, should litigation result, the prosecution only needs to establish if the worker was “properly trained.” If not, the proceeding can be quickly concluded. 

Flipping back to the maritime owner interested in degreaser safety, “Why take the risk?”

This is why Custom Compounders’ L-44 ECDB degreaser contains no phosphates, no strong alkalis, no harmful surfactants, no solvents, no volatile organic compounds. It is totally biodegradable and environmentally sound. It is certified by the EPA, NSF and the VGP for worker safety, for aquatic toxicity and, most important, it has been classified as only mildly irritating to the eye. It will not de-paint your vessel, will not attack metals and will not harm your skin or cause eye damage.

As required under an EPA recognized partnership agreement, it is compliant with the Federal Trade Commission’s “Guidelines for Environmental Marketing Claims” to be substantiated with “scientific evidence” for all promotional wording. This evidence was established through formal commissioned independent laboratory studies for each claim.