ARL wins award improving health and environment

ARL demonstrated a qualifying pretreatment on a M373 Patriot Missile support trailer at LEAD to validate laboratory findings.

The U.S. Army Research Laboratory recently addressed a need for safer “wash primer”for ground vehicles, combat service support equipment and aviation and missiles systems to prevent corrosion on the surface. The wash primer, which is used at Army depots, installations and repair facilities, is toxic and harmful to the environment.

As a result of their solution, the wash primer replacement team at ARL won the fiscal 2016 Secretary of the Army Award for Environmental Excellence in Weapon System Acquisition. The team will represent the Army at the Secretary of Defense competition later this year.

The Army relied on hexavalent chromium compounds — known as Cr(VI) — to protect its ground, air and missile equipment to prevent corrosion. The wash primer is sprayed directly on bare metal to provide protection and promote coating adhesion.

This test enabled ARL to determine how the paint system performs in outdoor environments prior to demonstration on a weapon system.

The military specification remained a mainstay pretreatment for mixed metal applications at depots and original equipment manufacturers for decades. Without an approved alternative, the Army and DOD would have experienced a gap in surface treatments if the program was cancelled.

The team at ARL tackled the development, demonstration, process and implementation phases of Cr(VI)-free products. Collaboration with Army organizations, such as U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command and U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command, as well as original equipment manufacturers, significantly helped determine which product would meet performance and sustainment requirements.

Dozens of commercially available products were tested, and nine were selected for laboratory testing and analysis. The products tested were all Cr(VI)-free, did not contain hazardous air pollutants and had low levels of volatile organic compounds. ARL qualified three pretreatments in 2015, which are available to all users, paving the way to cancel the toxic prewash. During demonstrations, painters applied the various samples on surplus parts, which were tested for adhesion and coating hardness once the samples were cured. The samples were also tested in outdoor environments.

Alternative pretreatments will reduce the emission of 2.4M lbs of volatile organic compounds to the atmosphere per year.

In January 2016, the U.S. Army Public Health Center published its findings, verifying three preferred alternative wash primers that do not pose any serious environmental or health risks that may prevent their implementation. A proposed “sunset date” for the original prewash is set for Sept. 30, 2017, and users are advised to transition to qualified alternatives.

“The Army Research Lab’s wash primer replacement team has clearly demonstrated how fully engaged leadership, coupled with sound environmental practices and innovative approaches, can directly enhance Army readiness,” said Mr. Eugene Collins, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Environment, Safety and Occupational Health.
ARL applied a Cr(VI)-free alternative wash primer to metal coupons in preparation for performance testing.

The winning team members from ARL include John “Jack” Kelley, Thomas Braswell and Fred Lafferman and contractors Tom Considine and Alicia Farrell, from Bowhead.

“It’s an honor to be part of a team that truly understands the challenge of reducing the Army’s impact on the environment while improving performance and readiness,” said Kelley, who led the ARL team.

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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 for 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 Material Command.