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New industry grows up around oil, chemical spills
Airdate: Thursday - April 13, 1978

Last Update: 04-07-2019

Show Description
MIAMI BEACH - A new industry has grown up to deal with the spills of oil and deadly chemicals that have recently taken on epidemic proportions. A convention of the people who produce, ship, and regulate these substances and clean them up when they are spilled is meeting here to talk about their common problem. Satirist Jean Shepherd compared it to "a convention of embalmers." But Wednesday, as he spoke to the crowd of 700 in the banquet room of the Deauville Hotel, Shepherd also observed, "there must be a lot of bucks in this." THE CROWD laughed uneasily at Shepherd's thought. Those laughing most squeamishly may have been the businessmen who would be out of a job is spills suddenly stop. It's a brand-new industry. Between the companies that spill the oil and the government agencies charged with controlling the spills are the men and women who clean up the mess. They have their own group, the Oil Spill Control Association of America. That name will change soon to include hazardous chemicals, Tom Dalton, president of the association, said Wednesday. Although slightly more subtle than hawkers at a state fair, the companies have their exhibits at this national conference and will talk to anyone dealing in toxic chemicals. Their exhibits and competition are likely to increase incoming years because new government regulations that go into effect June 12 guarantee that those responsible will pay for the cost of cleaning up spills. Even those who accidentally spill chemicals that threaten the waters of the United States are liable for up to $50-million in cleanup costs. "Until now there have been no incentives for businessmen to form clean-up companies," Hans Crump of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in Washington, D.C. said. "(previously) the spiller has had no responsibility for cleaning up the environment. With implementation of the penalties, the contractor knows the dischargers have to pay for it." But starting such a business does not automatically qualify a person to clean up a potentially disastrous accident. Crump and Mike Polito of the EPA office in Edison, N.J. said that one problem is the lack of established companies that can handle chemical spills properly. "There are only a handful," Crump said. When reminded that about two dozen companies at the convention were offering their services as spill-cleanup contractors, he said, "They would deal with them and they would tell you they can deal with them. But most of them have severe limitations." "There isn't a real industry available for handling hazardous materials," Polito said. "They all are pretty knowledgeable in cleaning up oil spills, but hazardous materials are new. "BUT WHEREVER there is money to be made, there are going to be services offered. That's the American way." The bigger the spill , the more the cost of cleanup - and potential profit. Dalton, also technical director of a private contracting company, said mopping up an oil spill could cost as little as $1 for every gallon spilled or as much as $5-$10 a gallon depending on the circumstances of the spill. A discharge of hazardous chemicals could cost $25-$40 a gallon also depending on circumstances and the type of chemicals spilled. "You've got chemicals that float and sink. Some mix with water. Some don't. Some evaporate," he said. At a derailment in Youngstown in February that killed eight people, 10,000 gallons of deadly chlorine escaped from a punctured tank car. The contractors bill to the railroad would have ranged from $250,000 to $400,000 by Dalton's rates. Entrepreneurs new to the hazardous chemical industry can use the ideas developed by government research and experience as well as copy the specialized equipment also developed by EPA and nonprofit groups. We're looking to these guys for helpbecause the EPA can't continue to provide this equipment," Crump said. EPA officials plan to maintain their equipment only as long as private contractors are not available. THERE ARE drawbacks to the new business. Dalton said a company "serious" about getting into spills must invest $150,000 to $200,000 to get the proper equipment and experts. A contractor also cannot be sure of his market. "There is no way to predict how many spills he is going to be handling," Crump said. "He may make a killing on one spill and break even or lose in another. He may go three or four months without using his equipment and he has to pay for that." But Dalton said, "generally there's enough business around the area for everybody. Sometimes on a spill, there's more oil than one company can handle. We've worked spills where we've subcontracted with five other companies. When there's more oil than we can handle I'm not greedy." Dalton's company Coastal Services Inc. centers in the northeast United States and is one of the more established companies, officials said. "We were handling hazardous materials before they called them hazardous materials," he said.
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April 13,1978
St Petersburg Times

Courtesy: Steve Glazer

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