JACKSON, MISS. - Plastics from Ergon Nonwovens Inc. can help resolve environmental problems such as oil spills. Ergon Nonwovens supplied the white, sorbent booms that helped contain and clean up the largest oil spill in U.S. history. The booms helped corral nearly 11 million gallons of oil that spilled from the tanker Exxon Valdez in Alaska's Prince William Sound in 1989.
Jimmy E. Jones, marketing manager of sorbents for the Jackson-based company, said the booms are made from polypropylene scrap generated in the manufacture of other products.
The lightweight materials are used in a variety of products including hospital gowns, filtration media, surgical masks and other medical, marine, environmental and industrial applications.
The company uses a process called meltblowing to produce the materials.
It involves melting the PP (polyester is used in some applications) pellets, forcing the liquid through hundreds of minute holes into hot air streams, then blowing the fiber strands onto a movable pallet, and laying down the PP fibers randomly. The fibers form a lightweight, soft cloth.
Additives can provide properties such as static resistance, water absorbency and color. Some of the materials can adsorb 25 times their weight.
Scrap material from the trim operation is chopped and blown into socks of varying lengths to produce the booms.
The company also makes oil sorbent rolls and pads for industrial applications, and mats for heavy traffic areas to keep carpeted areas cleaner.
Ergon Nonwovens also has a plant in Oldenzaal, Netherlands, Ergon Environmental Fabrics BV.