SWARF, SOUNDS FUNNY, BUT IT’S NOT

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It sounds like a nonsensical word that a child might jabber, stringing together some vowels and consonants when first learning to talk-swarf. It comes from slurry, which sounds just as silly.

But swarf and slurry are no laughing matter. Slurry is the wet byproduct that comes from manufacturing polycarbonate lenses. When slurry is dried out, what remains is swarf, the leftover shavings of lens materials. It looks much like shredded coconut, but it’s not as natural and nowhere near as healthy.

In an age when people are showing more concern for the environment and those who inhabit it, eyecare professionals are paying more attention to the mountains of swarf being produced every day by the optical industry.

U.S. optical labs generate and discard a combined 6,000-plus tons of swarf every year. It isn’t biodegradable, takes centuries to disintegrate and is highly toxic. The wastewater can typically include metals, coolant and other debris that can seep into soil and ground water. This is according to VCPN’s companion publication, Optical Lab Products (OLP), which this month contains an article about how the industry is combatting this problem.

In addition, polycarbonate swarf contains bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that has been linked in recent years to several health problems, including cancer. In July’s VCPN, when this page asked “Is There BPA In Your Polycarbonate?” the answer told you how California’s Proposition 65 established a maximum allowable dose limit of 3 micrograms per day of BPA from dermal exposure from solid materials and required optical retailers and laboratories to post warning signs. It’s not just government regulators who are doing something about it. OLP describes a startup and some machine manufacturers that have also taken initiative.

Bart Foster, founder and chairman of ReVision Solutions, LLC, through a partnership with the University of Colorado Boulder, is working closely with engineers and chemists to research the possibilities of decontaminating and recycling swarf and repurposing it for other uses, such as building materials, insulation or even clothing.

Machinery companies have gotten in the act, too. Bazell Technologies Corp., Schneider Optical Machines, Satisloh and Filtertech all offer solutions for managing swarf.

With more than 90 million polycarbonate lenses produced each year in the U.S., someone has to do something about the resulting slurry and swarf. It’s good to know that a combination of legislators, scientists and businesspeople are all making it their priority.

 

email me at js@visioncareproducts.com

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