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Mobile Incinerator : Waste Destroyer Seen Bolstering GA Tech

Times Staff Writer

GA Technologies, the high-tech research firm that built its reputation and revenues in the energy arena, plans to generate an increasing percentage of its future revenues from high-temperature incinerators that destroy hazardous and toxic wastes.

Last week, the company announced that it had received a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency permit for a transportable incinerator that uses extremely high temperatures to destroy polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).

GA officials believe that just a few waste disposal contracts will bolster sagging revenues that slid 8% to $155 million last year. GA’s systems and services division--which developed the high-temperature waste destruction incinerators--saw revenues drop 26% to $22 million.

A pair of waste cleanup projects in Alaska and Illinois, for example, could add $12 million to the company’s annual revenues, and GA has started chasing other contracts.

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The La Jolla-based company, which last fall unveiled a million-dollar marketing campaign that was designed to bolster its image as a waste handler, has also become active in the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council, a Washington, D.C.-based association of 45 companies that have devices to destroy hazardous and toxic wastes.

Although the federal government banned the manufacture of PCBs in 1976, EPA estimates suggest that more than 750 million pounds of the toxic wastes are still in use or have been stored--or simply dumped--at sites around the country. GA’s permit allows it to treat the PCB-laden soils which represent a hefty percentage of the nation’s unwanted PCBs.

The U.S. Office on Technology Assessment has reported that the nation must spend $100 billion to clean up waste sites.

PCB treatment alone has already “sustained several companies for several years,” according to Richard Fortuna, executive director of the Hazardous Waste Treatment Council. “I’d think that the market for incineration and thermal destruction of hazardous and toxic wastes would grow to between $10 billion and $15 billion over the next four to five years.”

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Based on initial industry contacts, Diot said, GA could be hauling the units around the country before the end of this year.

Because GA has the EPA approval in hand, the company won’t have to repeat most of the laborious permit process it has already completed.

“We’ve been talking to quite a few companies and made proposals to a number of people,” said Harold Diot, GA’s marketing manager. “Once we get the first unit out in the field and show the world that it works we expect them to go like hot cakes.”

GA has reason for enthusiasm. Although other companies hold EPA permits to burn or destroy PCBs chemically, GA was awarded the first permit for an incinerator which can be hauled to a site fouled by PCBs. That has eliminated the costly and sometimes dangerous practice of hauling PCB-laden soil across country to a permanent facility, Diot said.

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The GA technology also burns the wastes without creating a liquid residue, which “means they don’t need a sewer discharge or water discharge permit,” said Fortuna.

Although Fortuna described the PCB market as “time-limited” because PCBs have not been manufactured for 10 years, he suggested that GA’s “real advantage is that their unit can now be viewed as an effective technology (to destroy other wastes). They’ve proven their colors.”

Success with PCBs could “serve as a stepping stone to other (hazardous and toxic) waste situations,” Fortuna said. “PCBs are rather tough things to destroy so this permit could open the door to on-site treatment (of other wastes).”

To bolster business opportunities, GA officials have become active in the treatment council’s efforts to win changes in hazardous waste treatment laws which--unlike toxic waste laws--don’t allow the use of mobile incineration devices.

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“We’re seeing devices (such as GA’s incineration unit) that are second and third generation units but we’re still working under first-generation technologies,” Fortuna said.


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