Clean Harbors’ 4Rs
Recovery, recycling, re-use and responding to emergencies at one of the nation’s leading environmental, energy and industrial services company
By Greg Soucy
Clean Harbors does more than its name implies. The 30-plus-year-old, $2-billion company has become a leading provider of environmental, energy and industrial services throughout North America. It serves more than 60,000 customers, including Fortune 500 companies, thousands of smaller private entities and numerous federal, state, provincial and local governmental agencies.
From the beginning, Maine has been an important market for this Massachusetts-based company. Two of Clean Harbors’ early acquisitions were Shark Oil and Pollution Control Unlimited, both based in South Portland, in 1985. They established Clean Harbors, early on, as a statewide environmental services and oil recovery provider.
Naturally, one of the first actions the company took was to join the Maine Better Transportation Association and it has been an active member ever since, represented by Jim Letteney, the company’s senior account manager for oil sales. (Many will recognize Letteney, a regular volunteer at MBTA’s annual Infrastructure Fund Golf Classic.) He is a former educator and school principal who joined the company 25 years ago. He has seen the company grow over the years, working first in sales, then as a plant manager and again in sales, playing a key role as the firm has developed a market for the company’s reclaimed fuel products sold for use in asphalt paving, papermaking and other industrial applications.
Today, Maine hosts Clean Harbors’ industrial services, field services and oil services operations, employing close to 100 people working out of facilities in South Portland and Bangor. Technical services provide a broad range of hazardous material management and disposal services including the collection, packaging, transportation, recycling, treatment and disposal of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Field services handles a wide variety of environmental cleanup services at customer sites and for the road, rail and marine transportation sectors on a scheduled or emergency response basis. All of its operations have a big impact in Maine.
MBTA members are probably most familiar with Clean Harbors’ oil recovery and reuse program. “We dispatch 6,000 gallon tank trucks to collect used petroleum products, primarily automotive lubricants, from repair shops, quick lubes and dealerships throughout the state,” explained Letteney. “We also collect oil throughout New England, Eastern Canada and New Jersey and transport it to our terminal in South Portland where we have about 7.6 million gallons of storage capacity.”
The oil is treated with demulsifiers that separate out water and strip out solid contaminants. It is then filtered to create what’s called “on-specification” used oil fuel that is sold throughout the state to asphalt and hot mix producers to fire their rotary kilns. It is sold to large statewide and regional producers, as well as small, local producers using large Clean Harbors tankers to deliver the product throughout Maine.
So, Clean Harbors is creating a market that recycles and reuses waste oil and provides a cost-effective alternative to burning virgin product in asphalt and hot mix plants. “This is a terrific reuse of waste oil,” continued Letteney.
“Many MBTA members are either suppliers or customers who benefit directly. For the rest of the membership, and the public at large, if you’ve been on a road in Maine today there’s a good chance that the asphalt you drove on was produced using on-specification used oil fuel from Clean Harbors.”
Letteney said that key in creating that market has been education, a role that Letteney has excelled at, considering his experience as a teacher and principal. “There’s an educational component to this, explaining the Clean Harbors product and differentiating it from other products in the market,” said Letteney.
The field services side of the company handles a wide range of services that benefit Maine industry, as well as transportation.
Clean Harbors’ Director of Field Services Jack Vallely explained, “We have a fleet of trucks that we use to transport and dispose of waste for different customers.”
Vallely added: “We also have an industrial services division that goes into the paper mills, power plants and other industries to clean their boilers, get rid of their ash and remove other industrial wastes. We do their routine maintenance on their shut downs when they have to clean their heat exchanges, the cooling tunnels and other equipment.”
This is the part of the company that Clean Harbors’ customers like to read about but hope to never have to call. Clean Harbors’ emergency response end of the business responds to events such as spills, truck rollovers and releases from ships and trains. “We do the majority of the boomings and the line handlings in the Portland and Searsport areas,” said Vallely.
Clean Harbors has emergency response contracts with many trucking and transportation companies. So, if there’s a problem, Clean Harbors is just about the first call that they make. If a trucker doesn’t have a contract, the State of Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will call in an environmental responder based on their proximity and capabilities.
One recent emergency response took place in late May in Bucksport. Clean Harbors was called after four train tanker cars derailed on the banks of the Penobscot River with all of them off the track and one car nosing into the river. The tank cars were carrying clay and latex for use in the paper making process. Clean Harbors dispatched a team, secured the area and transferred thousands of gallons of material to other train tanker cars.
That was a pretty dramatic situation but most of the emergency response situations are smaller, ranging from a spill at an industrial plant to spills or overfills of heating oil during the winter. Vallely said that they respond to about three spills a week and that everyone who operates a commercial vehicle should be prepared.
“The smart idea for a trucking company is to have an emergency response agreement set up with Clean Harbors or some other environmental clean-up services company,” said Vallely. “That way they know who to call if they have a problem, they can count on a quick response time and will have pre-established rates. It makes the state happy, too, when they know that the transportation company has made arrangements to respond to a spill.”
Clean Harbors’ participation in the MBTA is an important part of the company’s corporate citizenship in the state of Maine. “We help remove wastes, recycle petroleum products and respond to emergencies,” said Letteney.
“We’re not real high profile; outside of our trucks, you don’t see much of us, but we’re here contributing to the way life should be in Maine.”