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Environmental profile: Soil Processing Inc.

One local company finds educating residents is part of its environmental-remediation job.

When three truck loads of heavy equipment arrive in a small Alaska community, residents warily raise an eyebrow. When they discover the equipment is going to be used to clean petroleum-contaminated soil, they wonder where pollutants will go. When they see smoke billowing from the stack at the site, they become alarmed and sometimes enraged.

This a scenario that George Cline, president of Soil Processing Inc. (SPI), tries to avoid. His Anchorage-based company, one of several in Alaska, specializes in cleaning petroleum-contaminated soils through thermal remediation.

When Cline brings his unit into an area to work, he also works with the local community to help them understand the process. On one job, villagers became concerned when they noticed the company working through the night. Residents thought SPI was releasing harmful gases into the air under the cover of darkness.

Chuck Bailey, SPI's superintendent, invited members of the community to the site to observe the process. While they were there, the company performed a little experiment.

"We had a villager blow cigarette smoke into the intake tube of the monitor that we use to monitor air quality from the stack. The printed readout showed the cigarette smoke was three times higher in carbon monoxide than that allowed by the ADEC |Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation~," Cline says.

That is three times higher than what ADEC allows SPI to release through thermal remediation. The state requires that carbon monoxide gases be under 100 parts per million (ppm) during any given hour. SPI runs from 25 ppm down to 3 ppm, Cline says. The cigarette smoke registered 400 ppm.

"The criteria that we have to meet to operate in the state of Alaska is very, very stringent," Cline says. "More stringent than people driving around in cars where you see blue smoke rolling out."

In the past three years ADEC has made a major push on cleanup in Alaska. ADEC has found that many old underground storage tanks are leaching petroleum products into the soil, and the agency has made it a top priority to clean up the contaminated sites.

Contaminants originate from a variety of sources: broken fuel lines, leaking underground storage tanks, waste at construction sites and residue from gas stations. Businesses as well as individual property owners are responsible for cleanup.

"It's a cradle-to-grave law. If you dump a fuel tank in your yard, it's your responsibility to clean it up," Cline says. That means meeting the clean-up standards set by ADEC.

That's where Cline's company comes into the picture. The company's soil cleaning unit is mobile enough to be transported in three truck loads or by air in a Hercules airplane. At the site, the company lays down an asphalt pad near the contaminated material. The equipment is small and confined to an area 75 feet by 100 feet.

Using a loader, the contaminated soil is removed and fed into a hopper. It passes through a crusher to produce gravel of a uniform size and is then sent to the burn chamber. In the primary heat chamber, the contaminates are removed in a controlled process. The emissions then travel to the secondary heat chamber, where the gases are destroyed and the vapor released into the atmosphere after passing through a continuous monitoring system.

The residue soil and air emissions are then tested to guarantee they meet government standards. Cline says the emission monitor is calibrated daily, and if the company exceeds the standard in any given hour, they must fax the ADEC and tell the agency why and what they did to remedy the situation.

Soil processing is a strictly controlled and expensive business. Cline estimates he has $750,000 invested in equipment. The monitor that tests air quality from the stack's gases cost $65,000 alone.

Cline is constantly upgrading his equipment and technology. The company charges by the ton and production is the name of the game. "The more production we get, the more money we make," he says.

SPI has made so many changes and modifications on its present unit (rebuilding the processor and feed system) that Cline says they plan to build their next unit in Alaska. "We know what it takes to run it properly, and we can build it in Alaska at less cost than going out and buying another one," he says.

The soil processing business is seasonal, and during the season the crews work 24 hours a day: 20 hours running the unit and 4 hours of maintenance. A crew of four plus an engineering supervisor run the unit in shifts, operating the system seven days a week. In total, SPI employs 12.

To Cline, soil processing isn't only a business matter. It's personal. Besides owning the company jointly with his wife Jennie Sharpe, who runs the administrative side, he's a four-decade Alaskan. "I've lived here most my life, and so I want it cleaned up, too."
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Author:Maschmeyer, Gloria
Publication:Alaska Business Monthly
Article Type:Company Profile
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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