St. Johnsville firm’s foam to help clean up Gulf oil spill
ST. JOHNSVILLE OpFlex was never one of Cellect Plastics’ most popular products, but it’s all CEO Scott Smith has thought about for the past two weeks.
OpFlex is a polyolefin foam that repels water but absorbs oils and hydrocarbons. Oil company BP, whose drilling platform in the Gulf of Mexico exploded, killing 11 people and causing a massive oil spill, has agreed to purchase the absorbent foam from Cellect to help with the cleanup efforts, Smith said Tuesday.
As the oil slick moved closer to land, threatening Louisiana’s marshes and fishing industry, Smith traveled to Houston with samples of OpFlex in an effort to show how his product could help.
He met a lot of resistance, he said Tuesday, because so many other companies and individuals were peddling their own inventions.
“I’ve literally started every conversation for the last two weeks with ‘please don’t hang up on me, I’m not crazy,’ ” he said.
Smith spent eight days in Louisiana, where he traveled to a fishing community in Venice and stayed with a local fisherman in the family’s trailer. He called the experience humbling as he learned about the family, who had first lost their home during Hurricane Katrina and are now devastated by this man-made environmental disaster.
“It was quite an experience, I’ll tell you,” he said.
While in Louisiana, Smith said he slept about two hours a night as he worked to produce videos of his product as it sucked up oil from marshes and cleaned off oil from plants. It took dozens of phone calls and e-mails before Smith was able to find someone who would listen to him about his product.
OpFlex, which has a patent pending, absorbs up to 32 times its weight in oil and can be wrung out and reused 100 times, he said. It is also biodegradable.
“OpFlex is truly a green product and the most cost-effective solution to the marsh cleanup,” Smith said in an email.
BP is contracting with local fishermen who will be using OpFlex to clean up the marshes of Louisiana, Smith said, which will also put those fishermen back to work.
Smith called Louisiana’s fishermen key to the solution and cleanup efforts. “No one knows their marshes more than the local fishermen,” he said.
Cellect manufactures a variety of foams that are used in the sporting industry for things like protective gear and yoga mats, in the automotive industry as insulation and also in cleaning products.
The idea for OpFlex came during the 2006 flood in Montgomery County, when oils leaked into water systems.
Smith said the purchase of OpFlex by BP to help with the cleanup efforts is a “major event in upstate New York manufacturing.”
The 3-by-48-by-72-inch foam pads will be manufactured at Cellect’s plant in St. Johnsville. The company is working with partner MH Stallman in Providence, R.I., to ship them to the Gulf region.
Smith was in Providence on Tuesday meeting with MH Stallman executives but is headed back to the Gulf shortly, where he said there is a lot left to do.
“It’s a tremendous responsibility,” he said.