Blasting Risks and Recommendations

MONDAY, JULY 10, 2017

By Eric Rennerfeldt, Graco Inc.

The risk associated with silica product in abrasive blasting has become a growing safety concern for construction workers. Exposure to too much respirable crystalline silica can cause serious health problems such as lung cancer, silicosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and kidney disease. As a result, we have seen new regulation in the industry with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s new Silica Rule, which reduces the permissible exposure limit (PEL) to silica.

One way companies are protecting their workers is by making a switch from dry blasting to wet — or vapor abrasive — blasting. Vapor abrasive blasting is similar to dry blasting except the blast media is moistened prior to impacting the surface, resulting in a significant reduction in dust exposure.

NILES Industrial Coatings, in search of a solution for reducing its employees’ exposure to silica, reports the following successes with wet blasting equipment.

Real-World Application

The company has used vapor abrasive blasting equipment for a variety of applications across several industries — including work with oil terminals; dams; automotive, petrochemical and power facilities; structural steel; and tank linings. NILES also works with large farm and construction equipment companies.

Containment Benefits

When using vapor abrasive blasting in lieu of dry blasting, the team encountered fewer air containment issues and found that:

  1. Full fresh-air-supplied suits are not needed as often, because the majority of airborne dust is suppressed.
  2. The water-media mixture doesn’t travel as far during blasting and falls to the ground more easily.
  3. Job cleanup efforts are reduced and simplified. 

Reduced Maintenance

NILES also discovered there is less maintenance needed. The controls and valves on dry blasters wear out more quickly because hot air from the compressor is flowing through all the control points, and dry media easily abrades the media control valve; whereas, vapor abrasive blasting machines only rely on air for the blast power and blast on/off control. Blast hoses can typically last twice as long with vapor abrasive blasters as they do with dry blasters, because the wet media is cooler and reduces friction in the hose.

Easier Mobilization of Equipment

NILES employees found they could mobilize and demobilize their equipment more efficiently using the wet blaster's two-ply hose, which was lighter and easier to maneuver than the larger four-ply hose used with their dry blast equipment. This offered a big advantage for workers operating at heights.

Mobilization was also easier because of the reduced need to set up containment before each project. Because the media was already wet in the pot, large air dryers were not needed.


As a result of using six EcoQuip vapor abrasive units regularly, leaders at NILES say they have seen a reduction in water and media usage, fewer air containment issues, and significantly lower cleanup costs. They also cite fewer delays due to weather, because unlike the dry blasting process, vapor abrasive blasting can be done in wet or rainy conditions.

“When we switched over to EcoQuip we found our media usage reduced by 50 percent,” said Craig Brooks, key accounts operations manager at NILES. “Another big advantage is the amount of water we save since we’re no longer using a more traditional halo nozzle. We typically use half the water we’d regularly use when using a halo nozzle.

“On average, our overall containment costs with EcoQuip are reduced by 90 percent, and our cleanup costs are reduced by 30 to 40 percent.”

*Claims or positions expressed by sponsoring authors do not necessarily reflect the views of TPC, PaintSquare or its editors.



Eric Rennerfeldt, Graco Inc.

Eric Rennerfeldt, product manager of Protective Coatings and Surface Preparation Equipment, has been with Graco for 19 years and has experience with various fluid handling systems, with an emphasis on plural-component spray equipment for protective coatings and vapor abrasive blast equipment for surface preparation. He has a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Minnesota.