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Dry ice blasting is cool way to clean

Method has diverse uses, is environmentally sound

How many uses are there for dry ice?

For Randell Heath, founder of Coldsweep Inc. in Mountain Green, Morgan County, the uses are seemingly limitless.

His business focuses on dry ice blasting, or cleaning. One week his crew of five people may be removing soot from books salvaged from a fire in Richfield, and the next week removing paint from the Syro Highway Products building in Centerville.

Heath likes to give demonstrations of the cleaning method because jaws always drop, he said.

"Even if they can't use it, there are people who can't wait to tell others about it," Heath said.

Heath learned about using dry ice when he worked at Hercules Engineering in Clearfield. The company had machines that built up resins, and it needed a way to clean them off. He took some equipment to the company and found it to be quick, with no mess to clean up afterward.

"It's the kind of thing where you can go in, do it and be done," Heath said.

Dry ice blasting is similar to sandblasting, in a way, in that high-pressure air is used with another substance to remove another unwanted substance. In this case the dry ice, or carbon dioxide, is shaved into sugar-size granules and lifts unwanted substances without damaging the surface, like sandblasting.

Another appealing aspect is that the leftovers dissipate into the air, leaving no messy cleanup and making the process environmentally friendly.

This was especially appealing to lift workers at Solitude Ski Resort who have to clean lift parts in a solvent that may not even completely do the job. The workers then have to scrub the niches with wire brushes before an inspector comes to test for cracks and stresses.

"Typically when we deal with solvents, we have to dispose of it all," said Jeff Schmidt, Solitude ski lift manager. "With this, there would be no disposal."

Ski lift workers also were excited to learn that the dry ice blasting cleaned the parts in a quarter of the time. The workers would also be able to do the cleaning on site, without as much disassembly, because the machines are portable.

"It would be good to use all over the resort," Schmidt said.

The real test of creativity came when Heath was called by Utah Disaster Kleenup to see if he could remove soot from books at the Richfield Courthouse. As far as Heath knew, dry ice blasting had never been used to clean books.

Jayrene Nielsen, a Sevier County clerk, referred Utah Disaster Kleenup to Randy Silverman, a preservation librarian at the University of Utah. She had heard a presentation he gave about five years ago.

The older, more tested way of removing soot is to use a rubber sponge. But when books were wiped down, the soot would stick to the sponge. When workers were done, the book would be placed in an ozone chamber and "ozinated." The downside to this process is that the remaining soot is pushed farther down into the material it is attached to.

Dry ice blasting breaks up the soot and removes it almost completely from the surface.

"I just think it is breakthrough technology," Silverman said. "I am really excited about it."

There is such interest in the use of dry ice blasting that Silverman is working on an article to be shared with his colleagues about it.

Park City has also given Coldsweep a nod, using the process in homes. The blasting has been used to remove failing paint and also to age things.

"One of the great things about this process is that we can make new look new, old look older and new look old," Heath said. "This process is just so diverse in its uses."