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Opportunities develop from environmental hazards
OCTOBER 26, 2001 - published with permission from the Daily Commercial News

By Korky Koroluk
DCN CORRESPONDENT
MARKHAM, ONTARIO

Every environmental catastrophe, large or small, seems to bring with it a new business opportunity.

Thus, the discovery that asbestos is a harmful susbstance gave rise to contractors whose job is to remove the stuff.

"I . . . think there is much greater environmental awareness now than there used to be. We are much better educated and are learning where the hazards are, what products are causing us problems."
-- Don Bremner

Lead based paint turned out to be harmful, too, so they had to be dealt with. PCB's (polychlorinated biphenyls) polluted soil when oils containing them were carelessly dumped.

No one knew better at the time but, now, dealing with PCB's is another specialty.

The list is long and one of the more recent additions is toxic mold.

Is the world becoming a more toxic place?

"I don't think so," says Don Bremner, vice-president of Restoration Environmental Contractors, a company the specializes in abatement of environmental hazards. "There are more chemicals than ever. But I also think there is much greater environmental awareness now than there used to be. We are much better educated and are learning where the haxards are, what products are causing us problems."

He said he remembers as a kindergarten student, that "we used asbestos almost like papier mache to make thing to give to our grandmothers."

"I remember making a pumpkin in 1960."

There are no asbestos pumpkins being made in today's kindergartens.

The chances are good that the asbestos was removed from Bremner's old school by his firm or one of the many specialty contractors with whom he competes.

And, while there is still a lot of asbestos out there, the hazard that has received a lot of publicity in the last couple of years is toxic mold.

In fact, articles on mold are prominently featured on the Web site maintained by Bremner's company.

"With asbestos, if you breathe a lot of it, it can cause difficulties 10 or 15 or 20 years down the road," he said. "But with mold you have an immediate problem for people with allergies or respiratory problems. There is a lot of material that proves the problems molds cause for children."

That's why his company sponsored a day-long conference on the subject early this year.

The reaction to that conference was so positive, he said, that another had been planned for this month. It was cancelled in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the United States in September but will be held later. ( click here for more info on the Mold and Environmental Conference )

Restoration Environmental was formed in 1989, and does "$3 million to $5 million a year," Bremner said.

The growth of environmental concerns was in full swing by the late 1980s, and a lot of specialty contracting firms were formed during the 1980-to-2000 period. In Cambridge, Ont., ConTech was formed in 1993. Its specialty is PCB containment and, in its short life, it has become "one of the top three in Canada" in volume handled, said Byron Day, the firm's president and part owner.

"We have other divisions but our main focus is to remediate and dispose of PCB waste, site work-- anything involved in removing and disposing of that PCB waste."

ConTech has a company called Flourescent Lamp Recyclers Inc., which recycles flourescent lamps that contain mercury, along with any other mercury waste.

"That could mean thermostats, you name it. There are thousands of things that contain mercury," Day said.

The recycling firm also deals with old flourescent ballasts which contain PCBs. Modern ballasts do not.

Day declined to put a dollar value on his firm's annual business, but said they move about 700 tonnes of PCBs a year.

That's a lot, when one considers that much of it is picked up in dribs and drabs.

The market has been "pretty much steady for the last couple of years," he said.

"But there are federal regulations pending and expected to be introduced within the year, which will mandate that PCBs be gone by 2009 or 2010, and we expect a little bit of an increase at that time."

In fact, figures for the entire hazardous material remediation sector are hard to come by since many firms are reluctant to give revenue figures.

Once source, however, estimated that it might exceed $100 million a year in Ontario alone, but was unsure enough of his guess that he didn't want his name attached to it.

Day said many of today's problems with PCBs are in part the result of mismanagement in the past.

"A lot of our soil projects are done because, before the regulations about PCBs came into effect in 1980, a lot of the maintenance was done by just dumping oil on the ground from transformers and things like heating elements that contained PCBs."

Those regulations created a business opportunity for others besides Day and his partner, Tom Maxwell. Day said his competitors all came into existence after the regulations were passed.

One of those competitors is Brampton based Green-Port Environmental Managers Ltd., a 50-50 partnership between Greenspoon Bros. Ltd. and Peter Pac Ltd.

Greenspoon has a long, solid history in demolition and site remediation, so spinning off a firm to deal with hazardous wastes seemed natural.

Peter Pac, which came into existence in 1987, is a supplier of custom-fabricated containers used for storing PCBs.

Although only about 10 per cent of Green-Port's work is directly related to Greenspoon's demolition work, the two firms often work closely together, said Marc Mittleman, vice-president of operations for Green-Port.

Green-Port handles other hazardous materials as well, Mittleman said, including transportation to disposal sites. Their work includes asbestos, lead and mold abatement, site remediation and decommissioning, he said.

Sometimes an older firm establishes new divisions to deal with the opportunities that present themselves as people become more and more aware of environmental problems.

One such is the Donson Group, in North Bay Ont., incorporated in 1976. The firm began its life as an engineering construction company specializing in services for the forest industry--things like lumber-drying kilns and wood preservative treatment plants. There was a bit of a downturn in that sector in the mid 1980s, said company president David Euler, "and we expanded into software systems and from there we went into more traditional-type contracting."

"Then, in the last five years, we've really expaned in two areas."

"One is tank systems made of glass fused to steel and used for storage of municipal biosolids from sewage treatment plans, slurries and sludges from the agricultural sector and for storage of potable water."

"Our systems group focuses on process control and industrial automation and SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition Systems) for both water and wastewater facilities. We've also developed, in conjunction with a Swiss company, an evaporator used to treat landfill leachate and high-strength industrial waste."

The evaporator, which is presently undergoing pilot testing at a landfill in the Ottawa area, is called AutoFlash an is, says an article on the Donson Web site, "a large-scale, highly efficient, stable evaporation system that is driven by low-grade reject waste heat."

"It is using that waste heat that makes the system economical to operate," Euler said.

"At a landfill site you have methane gas that in many cases is just flared off," he said, "There is a push on right now to take the methane gas and run it through generators to provide electricity. What our system does is take the waste heat from those generator sets and uses that waste heat to treat the landfill leachate."

"So you have a nice application there. You can take care of some environmental problems--the methane gas contributing to the greenhouse problem--and use waste heat generated from that to treat the leachate."

In essence, then, the system uses waste to treat waste?

"Yep," said Euler. He said his company's AutoFlash system is one of several technologies undergoing testing at Ottawa. The tests will run for another two or three months.

Donson is working with Conestoga-Rovers and Associates of Cambidge, Ont., on the project. Conestoga-Rivers is a large environmental engineering consultant with worldwide operations.

 

Contact Mr. Don Bremner
Tel 1-800-894-4924 or (905) 888-0066 Fax 905-888-0071
P.O. Box 746
10 Stalwart Industrial Drive Unit 5,
Gormley (Markham), Ontario
Canada L0H 1G0



 

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