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0404 SODA BLAST SYSTEMS

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					                                                                                      SPECIAL MAINTENANCE SECTION




                                                                         Would you believe that you
                                                                                can clean your hull


Green                                                                        effectively and safely
                                                                                with baking soda?




      Machine                                                               By Elizabeth Ginns Britten




     or some of you, thinking of Texas might conjure images

F
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     of oil wells and refineries, a place laden with environ-
     mental no-no’s. But that’s unfair, since the Lone Star State   bined. Even so, when I first learned about a green-thumb,
has more nature tourism acres than the Great Smokey Mountain        Houston-based company called MMLJ that’s created a machine
National Park and the Rocky Mountain National Park com-             that uses clean, non-polluting baking soda to remove bottom



                                                                                                        April 2004 Power & Motoryacht xx
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                                                                                                       please write a few words that will
                                                                                                       fill this space. The Style for.A
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                                                                                                         approximately 30 of the company’s
                                                                                                         machines, recognized sodablasting
                                                                                                         as a nondestructive way to remove
                                                                                                         graffiti from buildings.
                                                                                                            MMLJ uses a granulated baking
                                                                                                         soda formula (yes, the same kind
                                                                                                         used around your house and in
                                                                                                         your food) to remove antifouling
                                                                                                         paint. The process involves putting
                                                                                                         the soda (a.k.a. sodium bicar-
                                                                                                         bonate), a clean, pure substance
                                                                                                         that’s FDA- and USDA-approved,
                                                                                                         into a container called a Soda
                                                                                                         Blaster where it’s pressurized and
                                                                                                  then shot at the hull under high pressure.
                                                                                     The result is a nontoxic, eco-friendly way to clean
                                                                                     your boat’s hull bottom that won’t damage fiberglass
                                                                                     and represents a marked departure from conven-
                                                                                     tional methods like chemical strippers and sanding.
                                                                                        “So let me get this straight,” I said, dumbfounded,
                                                                                     after I listened to Benny LeCompte, vice president of
                                                                                     operations and general manager of MMLJ. “You’re
                                                                                     telling me I can clean and remove paint from my
                                                                                     boat’s hull with the same stuff I clean my teeth with?
                                                                                     The same stuff I keep in the ‘fridge?”
                                                                                         “I know,” he replied, “it almost sounds too good to
                                                                                     be true, but it’s not.”
                                                                                        Until recently, sodium bicarbonate was used
                                                                                     rarely—if at all—to remove antifouling paint.
                                                                                    LeCompte says that for many years MMLJ was so
                                                                                  focused on sodablasting in other industries that the
    paint, I was caught off guard. When I learned this technique is       marine businesses weren’t “there for them.” And, funny
    also supposedly more cost-effective in the long run and less          enough, Bill Connelly of StripCo, a Dallas-based company that
    time-consuming than traditional stripping methods and eases           uses the process and distributes Soda Blasters, adds, “blasting
    waste-disposal problems, I had to know more.                          boat bottoms may be soda blast’s best and highest use. The
       In fact, baking soda has long been recognized for its excep-       next-best alternative [of chemical strippers and sanding] is so
    tional cleaning abilities beyond household applications. Baking       inferior in comparison, it doesn’t even come close.”
    soda was used to restore the Statue of Liberty in the 1980’s,            Ben Hershburger, an independent contractor who for three
                                                                                                                                               PHOTOS: COURTESY OF MMLJ




    chosen for its ability to clean without destroying the integrity of   years has been using the process on boats up to approximately
    the statue’s surface. In the early 1990s, when Ford recalled a        90 feet LOA in South Florida, agrees. Hershburger says using
    number of F-150 pick-ups, citing “premature failure of paint          chemicals to strip paint is costly and time-consuming because,
    coatings,” MMLJ offered sodablasting as a time- and labor-            once the paint is removed, the chemicals and remnants must be
    saving alternative to the established hand-sanding and chem-          taken to an approved chemical dumping site and sealed into
    ical-stripping methods. Later the city of Chicago, which owns         drums. Prior to sodablasting, he relied heavily on pressure


xx Power & Motoryacht April 2004
                                     washing and grinding, which resulted in a lot more difficulties,    sand blasting) are “destructive [to gelcoat] by their nature.” He
                                     most notably finding a skilled grinder who could remove the         says he’ll occasionally sodablast a hull and reveal a “swirling” or
                                     paint without leaving holes in the gelcoat. He says that although   “blistering” from a previous job, indicating a damaged gelcoat
                                     sodablasting “might be a little noisier,” it is faster. (LeCompte   in need of patching or replacement, which can be costly. That’s
                                     says using a soda blaster to remove paint from the boat’s hull      why the cost of grinding vs. sodablasting cannot be compared.
                                     takes about 1⁄10 the amount of time traditional methods do but      “A lot of boat owners tend to go for what’s cheapest up front,
                                     cautions that paint residue must still be disposed of in accor-     but there’s always that ten percent of people in the know, who
                                     dance with local codes.) Hershburger adds that baking soda is       are looking for an alternative,” he says. “We want to reach
                                     easier to work with, since there are no harmful chemicals to        them.”
                                     breathe in or protect your skin from.                                  Although the cost of a soda blast job varies according to a
                                        Connelly claims he has removed the bottom paint from a 35-       boat’s length and beam, LeCompte reports that clients can
                                     foot sportfisherman with a 12-foot beam in just 45 minutes. He      expect to pay approximately “$20 per foot for a 22-foot boat,
                                     also told me about a friend who uses the method and once had        $30 per foot for a 35-footer, topping out at around $40 or $50
                                     to hire a team of laborers to do the work he now does himself in    per foot for larger boats.”
                                     a fraction of the time. “With all his extra time, he’s building a      So if you’d like to save yourself some hassle, get your boat
                                     tug boat. I’d say he’s very appreciative,” Connelly adds.           back in the water quicker, and do your part to protect the envi-
                                        It is because of stories like these that MMLJ has teamed up      ronment, check with your local marina to see if there are any
                                     with Home Port Marine Marketing to develop and execute a            soda blasters in your area. Or call MMLJ directly, and the
                                     public relations program for the sodablast system. LeCompte         company can refer you to a local contractor.
                                     says MMLJ wants to make people aware that such an option               MMLJ (800) 727-5707. www.mmlj.com.
                                     exists in a market where conventional methods (grinding and
TECHNICAL ILLUSTRATION: PAUL MIRTO




                                                                                                                                           Month 2004 Power & Motoryacht xx

				
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