Division of Spill Prevention and Response


Tactic CR-1: Sorbents

Sorbents can be used to pick up spill residuals from tundra and to prevent movement of hydrocarbons into clean areas. Use sorbents if water is not available for flooding or flushing, or if the topography of the site prevents the effective use of booms to contain flooding or flushing water. The choice of which sorbent material to use depends on the substance spilled, season, and availability. The use of sorbents can be labor-intensive compared to other cleanup techniques. Deploying and recovering sorbent material can result in physical damage to tundra; this risk must be carefully weighed against the benefits of removing the residuals. Some examples of sorbent materials include:

  • Polypropylene sorbents (pads and boom material) (Figs. 17, 18, and 19)
  • Snow (Figs. 20 and 21)
  • Granular sorbents (e.g., sawdust or commercially available products)
  • Straw
  • Pom Poms

Figure 17. Sausage booms for containing floating oil


Figure 18. Sorbent sheets used to recover oil


Figure 19. Sorbent used to prevent spread of contaminants


Figure 20. Snow after being used as a sorbent

snow managementP4200003.jpg

Figure 21. Using snow as a sorbent

Use polypropylene sorbents on crude oil or oil-based substances directly on the tundra surface, or on heavy sheen on standing water in wet or moist tundra or impoundments. A polypropylene sorbent boom can be fixed in position with stakes or fencing to collect floating product in aquatic or wet tundra, or to prevent floating product from moving off site. Sorbent wringers can be used to extend the life of fibrous polypropylene sorbents.

Snow is an effective and readily available sorbent for recovering residues from the tundra surface in winter. Apply snow, recover the snow/residue mixture using hand tools or heavy equipment (Tactic CR-3) and remove for disposal. Other adsorptive materials like granular sorbents or straw may be used if snow is not available.

Considerations and Limitations

  • Polypropylene sorbents are not effective for non-hydrocarbon spills (e.g. drilling muds or produced water), and are much less effective after surfactants (Tactic CR-8) have been applied.
  • Polypropylene sorbents work well on fresh crude, light refined oils, and thick petroleum sheens, but are only partially effective on solidified or weathered oil, highly viscous oil, very thin sheens, or emulsified oil.
  • Snow, granular sorbents, and straw are not effective for spill residue floating on water.
  • The use of sorbents generates a large amount of waste that requires proper disposal.
  • Prolonged use of sorbents on dry tundra may be counterproductive because tundra damage may result.
  • This tactic has been adapted from Tactics R-2, R-8 and R-9 in the Alaska Clean Seas Technical Manual (http://www.alaskacleanseas.org/techmanual.htm).
  • Equipment, Materials, and Personnel

    NOTE: Personnel typically work in pairs for sorbent deployment and recovery.

    • Appropriate sorbent material - to collect spill residue.
    • Stakes or fencing - to secure sorbent boom to create a sorbent fence.
    • Shovels, rakes, pitchforks - for application and removal of sorbents.
    • Plastic bags or disposal drums - for collection of saturated sorbents.
    • Vehicle approved for tundra travel (optional) - to collect and transport saturated sorbent materials.


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    Updated: 12/20/2010