Army lab earns environmental honors

June 02, 2017

By David McNally, ARL Public Affairs

ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (June 1, 2017) -- Army researchers are leading the way to a safer and healthier environment by offering alternatives to toxic compounds used in coating Army ground vehicles, support equipment and aviation and missile systems.

Officials honored a team of researchers from the U.S. Army Research Laboratory in a ceremony May 22.

The researchers, Project Lead Jack Kelley, Thomas Braswell, Fred Lafferman, Tom Considine and Alicia Farrell, from the lab's Coatings, Corrosion and Engineered Polymers Branch, qualified and expedited implementation of wash primer alternatives, which will result in the elimination of carcinogenic chromium compounds.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health Eugene Collins travelled from the Pentagon to present the "2016 Secretary of the Army Award for Environmental Excellence in Weapon System Acquisition (Small Program)" in person.

"What you did, being able to come up with an environmentally friendly and safer solution, which in the past was carcinogenic and highly hazardous to human health, it's a big deal," Collins told the team.

The Army has relied on what's known as "hexavalent chromium wash primer" to protect its vehicles and equipment.

"As a pretreatment, the wash primer is sprayed directly to bare metal to provide protection and promote coating adhesion and corrosion protection," Kelley explained.

The chromium wash primer was a mainstay pretreatment for mixed metal applications at depots and original equipment manufacturers, or OEMs, for decades, Kelley said.

The research team addressed the problem by tackling the development, demonstration, process and implementation phases of chromium-free products.

"Until now there has been no approved alternative and the premature cancellation of the DOD specification would have created a significant technology gap in surface treatments for the Army and the DOD," Kelley said.

The team collaborated with Army organizations and OEMs to determine performance and sustainment requirements.

"We investigated dozens of alternative commercially available products and selected nine for laboratory testing and analysis," Kelley said. "The success of the project resulted in qualifying three pretreatments."

These qualified products are now available to all users, paving the way for the eventual cancellation of the use of toxic wash primers by DOD. The service has proposed a "sunset date" of Sept. 30, 2017, for the transition to the safer alternatives.

"The cancellation is expected to eliminate more than 24,000 pounds of hexavalent chromium per year and millions of pounds of volatile organic compounds, which will enable long-term compliance," Kelley said. "It will also reduce costs associated with hazardous waste disposal, for example wastewater treatment, water and air quality monitoring, medical screening for workers and recordkeeping."

One location, Anniston Army Depot, Alabama, is expected to save about $220,000 annually in disposal costs by removing chromium wash primer from its pretreatment lines, Kelley said.

"Once the word gets to all of the folks who use wash primer around the world, this will be seen as the smart thing to do and the right thing to do," Collins said. "It does matter. Not only have you walked away with the Secretary of the Army recognition, you also won at the Secretary of Defense level."

Collins lauded the team, but encouraged them to do more.

"We need you to keep coming up with great stuff," Collin said. "You made a great impact, but keep being innovative. Keep those creative juices flowing and keep thinking about ways to make our jobs safer and healthier."

The researchers will receive honors from the Department of Defense later this year.

"The project was certainly a team effort and I want to thank the team," Kelley said. "It was a lot of work over a number of years."

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory, currently celebrating 25 years of excellence in Army science and technology, is part of the U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command, which has the mission to provide innovative research, development and engineering to produce capabilities that provide decisive overmatch to the Army against the complexities of the current and future operating environments in support of the joint warfighter and the nation. RDECOM is a major subordinate command of the U.S. Army Materiel Command.


Last Update / Reviewed: June 2, 2017