An environmental services company and a chemical biotechnology concern have formed a joint venture that will apply an emerging technology to cleaning up hazardous-waste sites.
The project, shared by ENSR Corp. of Houston and Celgene Corp. of Warren, N.J., specializes in bioremediation, a technology in which microorganisms feed on chemicals to degrade organic hazardous waste.
Bioremediation provides industry with a lower-cost alternative than traditional cleanup methods such as incineration.
“We believe that biological treatment can be applied to as much as 20% of cleanups in the $2.5-billion-a-year hazardous-waste market,” said Robert M. Zoch Jr., ENSR chairman and president.
Coming of Age
Bioremediation, the most advanced biological treatment method used in processing waste water for at least 75 years, is just now coming of age in hazardous waste treatment methods, organizers said.
“Bioremediation relies on the same types of natural biological processes that have been used for centuries to make wines, cheeses and beers. It’s natural, it’s what Mother Nature does,” said Jim Worthington, president of ENSR-Celgene.
The process complies with the Environmental Protection Agency’s recent position favoring destruction technologies over site containment methods or transportation of waste to a landfill.
“Bioremediation is a permanent solution,” Worthington said. “It can detoxify waste on site, thereby eliminating the need for transportation to landfills or incinerators, and dramatically lowering the cost of cleanup.”
Bioremediation works by mixing waste with the proper amount of oxygen and nutrients to induce naturally occuring bacteria to degrade waste. It is useful in the cleanup of fuel spills and leaking tanks or pipelines containing hydrocarbon-based materials.
The process hastens organic waste’s decomposition to basic natural materials.
“Under normal conditions, degradation takes hundreds of years. But through bioremediation, the process is accelerated more than hundredfold through a proper mixture of common fertilizers and oxygen that stimulate the growth of the microorganisms and speed the consumption of the waste,” said Louis Fernandez, Celgene president and chief executive officer.
Fernandez expects the newly founded venture will receive numerous inquiries from various companies concerned about cleaning hazardous wastes.
“I’m expecting a lot of contacts. There’s hardly a company in the chemical or pharmaceutical or any of a number of other industries that isn’t faced with a problem of cleaning up hazardous wastes,” Fernandez said.
A former ENSR senior project manager, Worthington said ENSR was a pioneer in the development of bioremediation and was among the first companies to apply the process to the cleanup of a Superfund site.
ENSR recently completed a bioremediation demonstration project at a Superfund site, and the EPA has approved bioremediation for that site cleanup. ENSR said the test project proved bioremediation could be used to clean up petrochemical sludges on a 7-acre lagoon four years sooner than by incineration and at nearly one-third the cost.
“ENSR has seen a significant increase in industry acceptance of the technology as a viable alternative to incineration and other more costly cleanup methods,” Zoch said.
ENSR brings the capabilities of field design, engineering and implementation to the joint venture while Celgene has the technical expertise to help develop bioremediation and speciality chemical products.
“Together, we can greatly expand the applications of bioremediation and develop procedures to make bioremediation even more cost-effective and efficient,” Worthington said.
The joint venture is based in Houston and managed by a board of directors made up of representatives from ENSR and Celgene, including Zoch and Fernandez.