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
-- 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
He said he
remembers as a kindergarten student, that "we used asbestos almost like papier mache
to make thing to give to our grandmothers."
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.
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 )
Environmental was formed in 1989, and does "$3 million to $5 million a year,"
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.
mean thermostats, you name it. There are thousands of things that contain mercury,"
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
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
In fact, figures
for the entire hazardous material remediation sector are hard to come by since many firms
are reluctant to give revenue figures.
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."
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
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
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
"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."
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."
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
In essence, then,
the system uses waste to treat waste?
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