Clean Harbors: Providing Full Service Environmental Services

Clean Harbors in Norwell, Massachusetts is one of the largest full service environmental firms in North America, boasting one hundred seventy-five locations, including fifty waste management facilities. They provide an array of services from industrial vacuuming to oil spill clean-up to dewatering. And Dana Aaronson, Vice President of Operations at Clean Harbors, knows all there is to know about dewatering.

Dewatering has been his specialty since he started working for an environmental service company part-time during college in the early 80s, “I was hired as an accountant because that was what my studies were in. Then I was hired as an Assistant Controller, and I really developed an affinity for the operational side of the business.”

He left to pursue public accounting for a short time, but the environmental service industry was calling him back, and he returned in 1986. He has been involved with an environmental company that offers dewatering ever since and arrived at Clean Harbors in 2002, a company that has had the same CEO, Alan S. McKim, since the company first started, thirty years ago, “There’s a lot of legacy and continuity here,” Aaronson says.

Clean Harbors focuses primarily on refineries and petro-chemical plants, but also offers their service to municipalities, as well as the steel and pulp and paper industries. Aaronson says, “We’ve been performing our dewatering service with the same core group of people for the last twenty years.”

Clean Harbors’ ultimate purpose is reducing the amount of waste that the customer has to deal with. Customers have to think about offsite transportation and disposal costs or placing the solids in their own landfill, creating a desire to protect and preserve that landfill space. Clean Harbors works to minimize the waste and assists with these objectives, “Every project is unique and needs to be evaluated on its own merit,” Aaronson says, and Clean Harbors seeks to eliminate the need for companies to hire a host of additional contractors in order to get a specific project done. With a diversity of disposal facilities across North America and a large network of transportation assets, as Aaronson puts it, “We offer a cradle to the grave service.”

Clean Harbors has the capacity to provide, operate and maintain equipment that becomes an integral part of a specific wastewater/dewatering site or they are able to bring their mobile equipment in for what Aaronson calls, “an event-based project.” The primary technologies that they use are belt filter presses, recessed chamber filter presses and centrifuges. All serve to take the homogenous soupy material known as sludge and separate it into a solid and a very clean liquid. The solid material that results is prepared for safe and environmentally compliant transportation and disposal. The customer can generally take the liquids back into their plant for a nominal cost, therefore only paying for solids disposition.

Aaronson says, “Nothing takes the liquid out one hundred percent —dewatering is a waste minimization process.” He also explains that all the technologies that dewatering firms use typically requires a chemical treatment on the front end of the process in order to facilitate the breaking of the chemical bonds that bind the solids and liquids together in a sludge so that the mechanical dewatering equipment runs more effectively, and the maximum volume/weight reduction realized. The company will generally use flocculants such as polymer or introduce heat and demulsifiers into oil based dewatering situations.

While all of their technologies have been around for years, and the basic concept of these technologies has not changed significantly, Aaronson says there have been some developments to the technology in the form of automation that help to reduce the amount of manpower required. Dehydration technologies can also benefit the dewatering process, and mobile thermal dehydrators are an example of a second phase dewatering technology that can be placed in series after the first phase technologies in order to allow more liquid material to be separated from solid material.

The dehydrators seek to drive off water or hydro-carbons from the solids, further reducing the amount that is hauled away, again, reducing costs for the customer, although, Aaronson points out, “The cost on hazardous waste disposal really came down in the 90s, and with it, the application of mobile thermal dehydrators.”
Clean Harbors strives to provide their customers with the most well-rounded and cost effective environmental services possible, and with experts like Aaronson, who takes pride in the process and in what he does, they succeed. 

Story by Megan McClure

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