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Soda blasting cleaning up mining industry

Jeff Perreault was trying to find an effective method for removing heavy-duty stains from a variety of surfaces when he found the answer right in his own kitchen cupboard: sodium bicarbonate.
Jeff Perreault, Media Industrial Cleaning and Restoration.

Jeff Perreault was trying to find an effective method for removing heavy-duty stains from a variety of surfaces when he found the answer right in his own kitchen cupboard: sodium bicarbonate.

Now ordinary baking soda is proving to be a powerful cleaning agent for stripping mining equipment of built-up oil, grease and grime. Sudbury-based Perreault and his partner, Justin Roy, are servicing mining companies across the country with their soda-blasting technique under the name Media Environmental.

“I just started learning more about the technology and I figured it would be a great cleaner,” Perreault said.

Considered a gentler alternative to sandblasting, soda blasting uses compressed air to shoot baking soda across the surface to be cleaned. The soda explodes on contact, sending tiny particles across the surface, taking a layer, or layers, of grime, paint and oil with it.

Soda blasting can be used on virtually any material, and it won’t damage the surface being cleaned. It’s more effective than pressure washing, it’s non-toxic to the workers using it and it’s environmentally friendly.

Perreault initially wanted to use soda blasting for removing stains from pavement, interlocking stones, concrete and asphalt, but then thought, “Can the mines use any of this stuff?”

He didn’t know how the soda blasting would work for them, but all he wanted was a chance to prove it could. He presented his pitch to Vale, which told him the company would give him a call when it found a use for it.

“I didn’t like that answer,” Perreault laughed. “So I started going to every mine in town individually and knocking on doors asking for maintenance superintendents.”

Once they heard his idea, they started finding things for him to clean—a boiler room coated in 20 years’ worth of built-up oil, a plugged rad on an underground scoop—and before long he was picking up jobs at mines throughout the Sudbury area.

Media Environmental now holds contracts with mining companies across the country. Amongst its clients is Xstrata Nickel. The company cleans its underground fleets in Sudbury, Timmins and Quebec. Whereas pressure washing has to be done after every shift, soda blasting is done four times a year, Perreault said.

Soda blasting decreases costs, because of the reduced need to replace parts damaged by pressure washing, and it’s also safer for workers. Parts could overheat and catch fire because of built-up grease, and slick surfaces created safety hazards.

Workers also seem to take more pride in operating the equipment, Perreault said.

“It’s like when you wash your car on Sunday and you take it out to go for dinner,” he said. “You feel good in your car.”

Media Environmental still takes on some work outside the industry—home remediation, highway paint removal and log cabin restoration—but Perreault wants to focus solely on industry. He’s in talks with Rio Tinto to go work in Australia, and he recently travelled to MINExpo in Las Vegas to get more international exposure.

His long-term goals are expanding the company’s reach to the potash industry in Saskatchewan and penetrating the oil and gas industry. Yet he may have a challenge on his hands.

There are skeptics who still don’t believe the same ingredient used to bake cakes can also clean muckers. But Perreault is patient.

“It’s an education process,” he said. “You have to bring everyone up to speed, show them the advantages, let them know that’s it’s not going to take their half-a-million-dollar piece of equipment and shut it down out of production for four days, and make sure that whatever we’re blasting onto those electrical components is going to be okay for the next day.”

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