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Dedicated to water quality.

Anyone visiting Richard Silver's office would know right away there was something very aquatic going on. The first clue is the 200-gallon tank in the reception area, chock full of gigantic tropical fish. Then there's the leaping blue marlin mounted overhead, along with its sailfish cousin in Silver's own office.

A brass and thick glass porthole from the Queen Mary facilitates Silver's communication with Brendan Mc Kenna, vice president of Manhattan Cooling Towers, a division of American. There are also numerous photos of Silver and his family taken on boats, near boats and with fish. So what's the angle?

Silver's firms, including the parent company, American Pipe & Tank; American Contracting; and Manhattan Cooling Towers; not only take care of the physical pipes and tanks, but their concerned care ensures the quality of their client's drinking water and the output of their heating and cooling systems.

Silver's late-father, Arthur, began American Pipe & Tank 70 years ago. Today, his own son, Steven, is the vice president, and holds a masters degree in Marine Biology and Coastal Zone Management with an emphasis on water quality. "Steve's in the next wave to come through and we keep passing it from generation to generation," notes Silver, unconsciously dropping another watery reference.

The younger Silver sets up job crews, monitors jobs and networks with the clients.

Rounding out the family involvement is Steve's wife, Helen, who has an architectural and interior design background. She schedules appointments and does follow-up work with their thousands of building clients.

Silver's companies service and install tanks made of wood as well as steel, that hold everything from sky-high water supplies to underground fuel oil. Here is one firm where oil and water do mix.

The American Contracting division services, installs and takes care of all heating, plumbing and piping needs, including steam fitting and service. "We have trucks going out and taking care of everything from Mrs. Jones' leaky faucet to re-piping an entire building," says Silver.

The Manhattan Cooling Tower division services and installs cooling towers and associated piping.

Silver himself is a licensed master plumber, as well as a mechanical engineer. The debonair company head is as likely to be found giving a lecture at a national meeting of engineers as he is to be caught on his knees checking out a weld on a tank installation.

With concerns about the quality of the city's water supply on the minds of all New Yorkers, Silver explains that owners and managers should not neglect the care and cleaning of the tanks that hold their building's potable water. City law requires the flushing and maintenance of the tank on a yearly basis, but Silver believes that is really a minimum requirement.

He uses the analogy of a car's oil changes to make his point. While the manufacturers might recommend an oil change at 7,500 miles, those who are knowledgeable about automobile engines change the oil every 3,000 miles. And, he continues, "If you don't keep the proper oil level in the car, you'll have to replace the engine."

While the tank cleaning is mandated routine maintenance, Silver observes "people become either lax, negligent or frugal." If an elevator company says to replace the cables, he notes in another analogy, owners spend $50,000 to avoid the specter of a falling cab, "but to go out to spend $500 to $1,000 to clean the water tank, they don't do it."

Ignorance of the law is no defense, he warns, when the insurance companies look at contributory negligence. "Usually the awards are much greater for the plaintiffs because you contributed to the problem," he insists.

Most professional management companies are aware of the regulations and comply with them, he adds. To help them keep up with the myriad state and city regulations, American makes presentations nationally and locally at management meetings, sanitary and building engineering seminars and holds briefings for superintendents. "This brings them up to speed on new codes and ordinances and also reminds them of the old codes and ordinances that often get pushed aside," he says.

American's clients range from Madison Square Garden, Silverstein Properties, Mendik Properties, S.L. Green, and the Trump Organization to New York University, Hunter College and many professional commercial and cooperative management companies and New York City agencies.

When a building is first developed, tanks are set in place with cranes and then the building is constructed around it. But once the cranes are gone, all repair and replacement of tanks needs to be done piecemeal.

"Once a building is constructed, the only way to bring it up is in knock-down form and then reassemble it," explains Silver. If a water tank needs to be replaced, the wood is pre-cut and assembled on site. "It becomes a little erector set," he says. Steel tanks for the most part are bought up in sheets and welded on site.

Because replacement is costly, Silver says preventative maintenance becomes a valuable tool. "A lot of building parts could have their longevity extended if people were just a little more conscious and diligent about prevention," he notes, here using the analogy of brushing teeth to prevent a costly trip to the dentist.

For water tanks, Silver says it is a fairly routine procedure for his men to empty the tank, go into it, flush it and scrub it with disinfectant. "They also check on the integrity of the tank and make sure there aren't any areas that are leaking," he says, noting it is similar to performing maintenance on a fish tank.

While some tanks maintain water strictly for fire fighting, others are a combination and are used for fire fighting and for domestic water. "When you see multiple tanks, you'll see they have designated tanks for a specific purpose," he notes.

A typical co-op building would have one tank where a portion is designated for drinking and another portion is designated for the standpipe. "The code is specific, you must maintain a specific amount of water by the square footage and size of the building," he explains. There is a minimum requirement of a 3,500 gallon tank in New York City.

The fire line water is usually drawn off the bottom, while the domestic water will come from a higher elevation. The bottom is always full because a float at the top of the tank automatically maintains the level of water as domestic water is used up.

The city codes were first designed so that sewage, containing E. coli bacteria, was not mixed with drinking water. "But as we learn more about the environment, we become aware of other bacteria," he says. "The one that shut down Minneapolis, cryptosporidium, is just deadly."

While the E. coli can be very easily quashed using hypochlorite - the chlorine - type disinfectant used in tank flushing - unfortunately, the cryptosporidium bacteria is contained in a hard, crystalline shell and chlorine does not penetrate the shell.

"So if you have cryptosporidium in the water, a routine flushing will not rid it of the parasite," he noted. "You've only gotten rid of what is in the water tank. But if the water purveyor is delivering water that has cryptosporidium in it, you have a problem. A lot depends on the individual's immune system. The cleanest glass of water can kill you because you can't see the bacteria - it's microscopic." While there are no standards for the permitted number of cryptosporidium oocyst, and as few as one can make a person ill, it can be eradicated from a water supply by costly municipal filtration.

Legionnela, the bacteria responsible for Legionnaire's Disease, is commonly found in nature and thankfully, is very easily killed by hypochlorite. A person can drink it and not have a problem, notes Silver, but the bacteria becomes deadly if inhaled into the lungs, as through the steamy vapors given off in a hot tub or shower. "You have these vapors and are breathing them in," he says.

As a general rule, a tank cleaning causes just a partial day's interruption in the water supply. All buildings are supplied with the appropriate notification signage. In a typical residential building, the tanks are cleaned Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

"The theory is they have their morning shower and have their evening water," he says. "In commercial buildings, we apply the opposite rules because the buildings are theoretically less occupied on weekends, so if you are going to interrupt their business it's done on the weekends or after hours. This business is seven days, 24 hours a day," Silver adds.

Many of their calls require reacting quickly to a client's problem. "People call us, they have no heat, they have no hot water, they have no cooling," sighs Silver.

This is often where Silver's mechanical engineering background is beneficial. "In some instances they have to hire an engineer to do some research and possibly prepare specifications and give them some direction on what has to be done - then go out into the trades - and there is a time factor and time is money."

When deciding along with an owner whether or not to replace a tank for any purpose, American takes into account downtime, the overall condition of the tank, as well as the economics of the building.

Cooling towers provide the cooling for an entire complex and they need preventative maintenance, overhauls and replacement of the refrigerant. Many systems are using refrigerants that are being discontinued for environmental purposes, so they are still available but expensive. Most maintenance is conducted during the down time in the Fall, but sometimes systems fail just when a building needs it the most.

Last Summer, Mc Kenna recalls, the Manhattan Cooling Tower division had to essentially rebuild a complete thousand ton operating system in a Midtown Manhattan office building over the weekend. The system had a failure, but they were able to nurse the it along and keep tenants cool until they could shut it down completely. Manhattan Cooling started at 6 p.m. on Friday and finished by midnight on Sunday.

If an oil tank needs cleaning or changing, often the tenants are completely unaware of the situation, as American Pipe will bring in a supplementary fuel supply to keep the boiler going.

Fuel oil storage tanks require cleaning, Silver says, because sludge builds up in the bottom. Although the sulfur level of oil has been reduced, fuel oil is unrefined and combines with its own natural water to form mild acids that continually pit out and deteriorate the tanks.

When these tanks are underground, soil erosion works from the outside in as well, so there is pitting from two directions. The pitting eventually causes oil to leak into the ground.

"Sometimes the tank is in a room with no ventilation," says Silver, "so the moisture just builds up, and you've got this constant sweating and beading on these tanks and it eats away at the steel."

Fuel oil spills and clean ups are highly regulated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Above ground tanks, usually kept in a basement in an old coal bunker, must be visually checked along with the room they are in on a monthly basis to certify there are no signs of any oil stainage or leakage. According to the requirements, a log also has to be maintained of these inspections.

Any sludge removed from the tank or spilled is considered to be a hazardous waste product and has to be disposed of in a highly regulated manner. "Whenever there is a spill in a basement it is picked up and put in special drums marked hazardous waste and then carted off," Silver says. "As long as the oil is contained within the vault room, it's nothing more than cleaning up a leak or a spill."

Where the law "has a lot of teeth," he says, is if the vault room has not been maintained in accordance with the laws as a containment system. "If you have been negligent in not complying with the exiting codes and ordinances, and you have a leak or a spill, and this product should find its way into a floor drain or into the sewer system, now you are faced with fines up to $25,000 a day, plus all the costs of clean-up."

Silver says then the agencies "treat you like a polluter because you knew you had to comply with the code and you chose not to."

The American Contracting division has been working with steam and its controls and fittings for over 25 years. "There is a tremendous amount of energy savings that can be effected when the steam equipment is operated at its design capacity," Silver says.

But he says steam is very tricky. "Water is water - it's hot, it's cold, it's always a fluid. Steam on the other hand," he noted, "goes through changes. It becomes a vapor, it becomes gaseous, it becomes a semi-fluid when it condenses, it does a lot of strange things."

Because of the high pressures, contractors therefore, must be certified welders, plus have the master plumber license. "Many of the pipes are welded as opposed to screw pipes that need to be threaded," he explains.

Silver takes great pride in his 30-person staff and their work. "If people recognize you as an expert in your field," he says, "and in addition to having the knowledge of what needs to be done and being up to speed on all the codes, and then to close the loop you have the technical staff to address the problem for them and resolve it in many instances, then you've brought everything to the client they could hopefully want."
COPYRIGHT 1995 Hagedorn Publication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1995, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:American Pipe and Tank Lining Company Inc.
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Feb 15, 1995
Words:2290
Previous Article:Rockefeller Center to offer brokers an inventory on disk.
Next Article:Stop overheating your building.
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