Environmental Firms Work Harder on Compliance
San Diego County is deemed as one of the fastest-growing counties in the nation.
According to the San Diego Association of Governments, the county population is predicted to reach 3.8 million people by 2020, an increase of 111 percent, from 1.8 million people in 1980.
With the fast-growing population, local environmental firms are stepping up to meet the requirements of government regulation to maintain a healthy living environment.
In San Diego County, the top 25 firms on the San Diego Business Journal’s List of the Largest Environmental Consultants reported gross local revenues of $140.31 million in 1999, an increase of 31.9 percent from $106.36 million in 1998.
The Journal ranked the environmental consultants by the number of full-time local employees. The 25 firms combined have 5,721 full-time employees, including 741 environmental consultants. Environmental consultants include biologists, chemists, ornithologists and archaeologists.
SECOR International, Inc., No. 16 on The List, is a full-service environmental consulting company, mostly for site assessment and remediation work for petroleum companies and local municipalities.
– Environmental Cleanup
Affects A Firm’s Revenues
Craig Smith, a principal at SECOR, said environmental cleanup of methyl tertiary butyl ether, or MTBE, contamination in water has affected the firm’s business locally. MTBE is a synthetic chemical added to gasoline to improve air quality as mandated by the federal Clean Air Act of 1990.
Smith estimated the firm’s revenues would increase 20 percent next year. Last year, SECOR reported $4.8 million in local gross revenues.
The original intention of adding MTBE is to promote more complete burning of gasoline, thereby reducing carbon monoxide and ozone levels of areas of the country with smog problems, according to a federal Environmental Protection Agency’s fact sheet.
“MTBE is a problem because it composes 10 percent of the gasoline we use every day,” Smith said. “Unlike other gasoline components, it doesn’t biodegrade easily and can move with groundwater.”
Smith said recent studies suggested cancerous effects on lab animals with high concentrations of MTBE, but health effects are not well known for humans.
“There’s also a low taste and smell threshold for MTBE,” Smith said. “MTBE can be easily spread into groundwater due to motorboats on lakes or leaks from underground storage tanks.”
– MTBE Contamination
Unacceptable To Public
According to the EPA, MTBE has a “very unpleasant taste and odor, and these properties can make contaminated drinking water unacceptable to the public.”
For San Diego, 75 to 90 percent of the county’s water is imported from Northern California and the Colorado River, according to the County Water Authority.
The California Department of Health Services reported MTBE has been detected in 11 surface water sources around the county, and some of these areas are undergoing treatment. By the department’s proposed drinking water standard for MTBE, all of the county’s surface water sources are within acceptable contaminant levels for MTBE.
Last year, Gov. Gray Davis issued an executive order D-5-99 to set up a timetable of removal of MTBE from gasoline.
“The petroleum industry immediately responded to what might be a threat to the subsurface water supplies, even though there aren’t any conclusions on health effects on humans,” Smith said. “They’re not taking any chances on this issue.”
– Improvements Planned
For Cost-Effective Cleanup
Smith said some of the contamination cleanup technologies are by oxidation, carbon absorption and air stripping. Currently, work is under way on these technologies so it will be cost-effective to cleanup MTBE in water.
Daniel Johnson, president of Environmental Business Solutions, No. 23 on The List, said his consulting firm specializes in development of strategies and solutions for contaminated properties, particularly sites with complex issues, such as “brownfields” or redevelopment projects. Brownfields are abandoned or under-used industrial facilities perceived to have environmental contamination.
Johnson said there has been an increased emphasis on enforcement by certain regulatory agencies, an increased use of and reliance on risk assessment for environmental site investigations and the revisiting of leaking tanks closed or given no further action due to chemicals left behind like MTBE.
His consulting firm with 12 full-time employees received a contract as Centre City Development Corp.’s “needed consultant” for the coordination of the remediation of the East Village Redevelopment Project. In addition, Environmental Business Solutions conducted phase one environmental site assessment in Downtown San Diego to support the ballpark and ancillary development, Johnson said.
– Company Refocuses
On Internet Information
One environmental consulting firm shifted its focus to providing environmental information to businesses over the Internet.
3E Co., No. 2 on The List, provides hazardous materials management and emergency response services for environmental health and safety managers.
The company employs 164 full-time employees and has 6,000 customers nationwide, including more than 100 customers in San Diego County, according to Jess Kraus, president and CEO of 3E Co.
“Companies are able to come to use to find any environmental information they need whether with a phone call or by Internet,” Kraus said.
3E’s Web site at (www.3ecompany.com) acts as a business-to-business E-commerce company by acting as a portal for hazardous materials information.
Its database maintains material safety data sheets (MSDS) for more than 1.75 million products and chemicals. The “One Click Compliance” program streamlines the management of critical information related to the safety, environmental and transportation programs by outsourcing the paperwork and database management.
“By adopting this method, we can reduce time and costs for a company and increase the safety of dealing with hazardous materials,” Kraus said.
– Web Site Has About
20,000 Visits Monthly
The year-old Web site operation called “3E Online” had received an average of 20,000 visits a month, Kraus said.
Kraus also said 3E acts as a 24 hours, seven days a week emergency response center for spills and hazardous materials incidents. The program is called “One Call Compliance.”
“The company looks like a mission control center for NASA with computers and telephone operators assisting businesses,” Kraus said. “By managing information for other companies, they’ll reduce the amount of labor in maintaining environmental information.”
Kraus predicts his company’s revenues will jump nearly eight times in the next two years. In 1999, 3E Co. reported gross local revenues of $11 million.
“After all, the entire idea is to protect your company and to protect your employees,” Kraus said.