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Abrasive blast cleaning is most often associated with cleaning painted and unpainted steel. It may also be used with care to prepare concrete and masonry surfaces and to clean and roughen existing coatings for painting. Abrasive blasting is an impact cleaning method. High-velocity abrasive particles driven by air, water, or centrifugal force impact the surface to remove rust, mill scale, and old paint from the surfaces. Abrasive cleaning does not remove oil or grease. If the surface to be abrasive blasted is painted with leaded paint, additional controls must be employed to minimize hazards to workers and the surrounding environment. The degree of cleanliness obtained in abrasive blasting depends on the type of abrasive, the force with which the abrasive particles hits the surface, and the dwell time.

Types of Abrasive Blasting

a) Air (Conventional)

In conventional abrasive blasting (Figure 1), dry abrasive is propelled against the surface to be cleaned so that rust, contaminates, and old paint are removed by the impact of the abrasive particles. The surface must be cleaned of blasting residue before painting. This is usually done by blowing clean air across the surfaces. Special care must be taken to ensure that horizontal or other obstructed areas are thoroughly cleaned. Uncontrolled abrasive blasting is restricted in most locations because of environmental regulations. Consult the local industrial hygiene or environmental office for regulations governing local actions. Procedures for containment of blasting debris are being used for paint removal from industrial and other structures. The amount of debris generated can be reduced by recycling the abrasive. Recycling systems separate the paint waste from the abrasive.

Schematic Drawing Illustrating Components of Conventional Abrasive Blasting Equipment

Schematic Drawing Illustrating Components of Conventional Abrasive Blasting Equipment

b) Wet

Wet-abrasive blasting is used to control the amount of airborne dust. There are two general types of wet abrasive blasting. In one, water is injected near the nozzle exit into the stream of abrasive (Figure 2). In the other, water is added to the abrasive at the control unit upstream of the nozzle and the mixture of air, water, and sand is propelled through the hose to the nozzle. For both types of wet-blasting, the water may contain a corrosion inhibitor. Inhibitors are generally sodium, potassium, or ammonium nitrites, phosphates or dichromates. Inhibitors must be chosen to be compatible with the primer that will be used. After wet blasting, the surface must be rinsed free of spent abrasive. (The rinse water should also contain a rust inhibitor when the blasting water does.) Rinsing can be a problem if the structure contains a large number of ledges formed by upturned angles or horizontal girders since water, abrasives, and debris tend to collect in these areas. The surface must be completely dry before coating. When leaded paint is present, the water and other debris must be contained and disposed of properly. This waste may be classified as a hazardous waste under Federal and local regulations, and must be handled properly.

Schematic Drawing of Cross Section of Typical Water-Injected Wet Abrasive Blasting Nozzle

Schematic Drawing of Cross Section of Typical Water-Injected Wet Abrasive Blasting Nozzle

c) Vacuum

Vacuum blasting systems collect the spent abrasives and removed material, immediately adjacent to the point of impact by means of a vacuum line and shroud surrounding the blasting nozzle. Abrasives are usually recycled. Production is slower than open blasting and may be difficult on irregularly shaped surfaces, although shrouds are available for non-flat surfaces. The amount of debris entering the air and the amount of cleanup is kept to a minimum if the work is done properly (e.g., the shroud is kept against the surface). This procedure is often used in areas where debris from open air blasting or wet blasting cannot be tolerated.

d) Centrifugal

Cleaning by centrifugal blasting is achieved by using machines with motor-driven bladed wheels to hurl abrasives at a high speed against the surface to be cleaned. Advantages over conventional blasting include savings in time, labor, energy, and abrasive; achieving a cleaner, more uniform surface; and better environmental control. Disadvantages of centrifugal blasting include the difficulty of using it in the field, especially over uneven surfaces, although portable systems have been developed for cleaning structures such as ship hulls and storage tanks. Robots may be used to guide the equipment. In many cases, the abrasive used is reclaimed and used again.