Suits save money, protect environment

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Los Alamos National Laboratory will save more than $800,000 and reduce the amount of material sent to a landfill by expanding the use of protective clothing made from a recyclable fabric.
Called OREX, the fabric is an organic polymer that is sent to a treatment facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn., where it can be dissolved and returned safely to nature. That saves both disposal costs and space in landfills. The cost of the treatment that dissolves the material is included in the initial price of the clothing.
The fabric is being used for worker protection clothing at a $94 million Recovery Act project at LANL. The project involves excavating the Lab’s oldest waste disposal site, Material Disposal Area B (MDA-B), used from 1944-48.
Because clothing, tools and equipment from the Manhattan Project and a plutonium processing facility are buried in MDA-B, about 40 of the 100 workers on the project wear clothing designed to protect them from radioactive contamination.
Protective clothing includes coveralls, shoe covers, gloves and hoods. Some workers go through three or more sets of OREX clothing each day.
The excavation is done inside sturdy metal enclosures to protect the public and the environment.
By using protective clothing made from OREX, LANL estimates it will save at least $840,000 in disposal costs and prevent about 200 cubic yards, or as many as 100,000 items of protective clothing, from being sent to a waste disposal facility.
 “In addition to cleaning up a 1940s-era waste disposal site, we aren’t generating additional unnecessary waste,” said Recovery Act Projects Executive Director Gordon Dover. “It’s all about environmental stewardship.”
The Recovery Act project will submit the effort for a Pollution Prevention award. A pilot project using OREX at the LANSCE facility won a 2009 award and saved the Lab more than $286,000.
The Lab is currently in the process of issuing a contract to a small, disadvantaged veteran-owned business that will allow all Lab programs to have access to the OREX products. That will result in substantial disposal cost savings in addition to a reduction in the dependency for space in landfills. The Lab is hoping to have the contract awarded by early spring 2011.