When the colored mulch industry first started in the early 1990s, mulch producers were using both liquid and dry coloring systems to manufacture their products. At one point, dry colorant made up roughly 75% of the market. But that has largely changed, and for good reason. Dry colorant poses serious health and safety hazards, which is why ChromaScape stopped selling dry pigment products for mulch colorant altogether. While other colorant suppliers have moved away from dry pigment as well, there are still some out there who rely on selling dry pigment. Whether you’re currently using dry colorant or considering it, here’s a look at the risks and responsibilities associated with dry mulch colorant.
Why is dry mulch colorant unsafe?
Dry mulch coloring systems use a granular or powder-based colorant to add color to wood fiber products. Solid, dry pigment has three primary health and safety hazards that must be controlled:
- Certain colors contain suspected human carcinogens
- Repeat exposure to breathable pigment particles can lead to chronic respiratory illness
- Pigment dust is potentially combustible and explosive
The threat of pollution due to storm water runoff is also higher with dry pigment compared to liquid products, creating additional environmental hazards. While all of these hazards can be controlled and the risks mitigated to some extent, the question becomes: Is it worth it?
Benefits of liquid vs. dry mulch colorant
Despite such significant safety concerns, there’s a reason some mulch producers continue to use dry colorant. Producers of dry pigments will tell you that dry coloring systems use less water and the end products dry faster, saving time and resources. Dry pigment also won’t freeze in cold temperatures.
But that’s where the “advantages” end. The evolution of liquid products has made them far superior in performance, and safer in application and production. Not only that, but the enhancements to liquid colorant have also made them more profitable.
The continued erosion of liquid colorant pricing in the market has eliminated the total per-yard coloring cost benefit that used to be found with dry colorant. Liquid colorants can be used in many application systems at a highly accurate rate. Dry coloring systems have not evolved as much and are crudely applied in a variety of ways, most of which pose a health threat to employees and the community. Each of these application systems require an additional handling step and all must be processed through a grinder at least once, but typically twice. These handling costs far outweigh any savings that might remain on a per-yard application basis.
Because liquid mulch colorant now has a lower initial price point, can be applied more accurately and more safely while maintaining outstanding performance, the benefits of liquid dyes pretty much speak for themselves.
Safety protections for handling dry colorant
If you are going to use dry colorant, there are a number of steps you need to take to ensure that you’re following OSHA requirements and keeping your employees safe during the coloring process. Here are just some of the policies and procedures you’ll need to have in place to ensure personal and environmental safety when handling dry pigment:
- Issue individual respirators to employees (cannot be re-issued)
- Conduct annual respirator training and testing
- Provide a method for cleaning and storing respirators
- Install dust collection systems
- Conduct industrial hygiene monitoring to determine exposure level
- Conduct explosion testing through specialized, independent labs
- Create an explosion prevention plan
- Create a written storm water pollution prevention plan
- Apply for storm water permit and maintain all EPA requirements
Liquid colorant comes with its own set of handling procedures and environmental requirements. But liquid dyes have no potential for respiratory exposure or air emissions. Plus, the risk of storm water contamination is far easier to manage with liquid colorants.
When it comes to the safety of your employees, the health of the environment and your bottom line, liquid mulch colorant is simply the better option.
All companies have choices on how their employees are treated and how they will work to protect their environment and community. ChromaScape has made the calculated decision not to support the use of dry colorants for those reasons. To see the difference premium, liquid colorant can make for your colored mulch business, contact ChromaScape or request a sample today.