Heritage Thermal Services Looks to Expand Operations

EAST LIVERPOOL, Ohio – Products such as nail polish, cleaning solutions, degreasers, cosmetics or petroleum-based products that are found in households across the country are – in the eyes of many consumers – disposable commodities that you discard in your trash can once you’re finished with them.

But in the eyes of the federal government, this isn’t simple garbage. It’s hazardous waste.

Over the last four decades, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has established protocols on how to dispose of this waste, determining that conventional landfills aren’t the best final resting place for partially used or expired products.

“We exist because of those regulations,” says John Avdellas, president of Heritage Thermal Services in East Liverpool. The Indianapolis-based company incinerates waste transported to its 26-acre site along the Ohio River. “Some of the material we bring in here is what you’ll find on the shelves of big box stores, only it’s classified as hazardous. It’s in every household or every garage.”

The East Liverpool operation burns waste that manufacturers generate and debris that manufacturing operations must dispose of, such as damaged products, discontinued or expired items, or rejected products classified as hazardous, Avdellas says. Under the law, a traditional landfill isn’t an option, so this material must be either incinerated or stored in a landfill marked as exclusive for hazardous waste.

Manufacturers are bound by law to incinerate this material while consumers are not, Avdellas says. For example, a bottle of nail polish rejected at the factory because its package is damaged must be manifested, tracked and disposed of safely. That same brand of nail polish at a consumer’s home, however, isn’t regulated and could easily be thrown into a wastebasket to be collected by a sanitation crew.

“One of the most dangerous things around is a garbage truck,” Avdellas says. “There’s never any testing for compatibility.”

Manufacturers are more than eager to comply and move unused or expired products off their shelves as quickly as possible, he continues. “A lot of companies want to protect their brand image and don’t want to see expired products end up at flea markets, so they’ll pay to get it off the market.”

Once those products are off the shelf, they’re either sent directly to Heritage’s incinerator or collected by another party that will transport the waste to East Liverpool. “We see ourselves as a pollution preventer,” Avdellas says.

While Heritage Thermal, formerly known as WTI, is in business because of EPA regulations, it continues to tangle with the agency because of allegations that its operation has discharged hazardous materials into the air.

In June, the company agreed to pay a $34,000 civil penalty to the Ohio EPA because of an air and hazardous waste violation dating from 2013, when a malfunction in its duct work caused incinerator ash to spew into a nearby neighborhood.

And in May, the U.S. EPA released a 20-page report that says Heritage discharged toxins into the air over a four-year period.

The company has said that no dangerous toxins were ever emitted, noting that the incinerator has a fail-safe procedure that automatically shuts down the operations should levels fall short of meeting regulatory standards.

Heritage is still in discussions with the U.S. EPA on that matter, says company spokesman Raymond Wayne. “We’ve provided them with all the information and we’re waiting to hear from them,” he says.

Avdellas emphasizes that it’s important for his company to be transparent and visible in the community, in both good times and bad. “There’s a lot of headlines out there when something goes wrong with the facility,” he says. “We are not perfect, and we don’t pretend to be perfect. But, we want to be visible all the time and that’s a commitment I made when I took over as president several years ago.”

Heritage Thermal recently started a community advisory panel, he points out, continuously invests in its local operations, and works closely with the Community Resource Center and the transitional work program. The work program prepares students for the world of work once they graduate.

At 174 employees, “We’re one of the largest employers here,” Avdellas adds. The operation occupies 27 acres along the Ohio River and is in the midst of a $1.5 million expansion.

This expansion consists of a large outside storage pad designated for roll-off boxes and solid waste such as contaminated soils, reports Steve Lorah, materials processing manager. “This will help us be competitive on large remediation jobs,” such as brownfield recovery, he says. “We’re limited as to how much we can process each day. So we needed a staging area where we could then process it at our own pace.”

Heritage Thermal incinerates bulk liquids, bulk solids and containers filled with types of waste that include Drug Enforcement Administration-controlled substances, household hazardous wastes and consumer commodities. The company does not handle any radioactive or infectious medical waste.

Bulk solids are shipped to the plant by either rail or truck, while liquids are transported in tanker trucks. Containers of all sizes are also shipped to the incinerator by way of truck, Lorah says. Every truck is weighed before it’s unloaded, and is weighed again on its way out of the plant to determine precisely how much material was unloaded.

Before any of this material is incinerated, samples are tested in the company’s laboratory to ensure the content complies with all regulations and that it matches with what the customer initially contracted to deliver, Lorah says.

“They’ll send us samples ahead of time of what they’re intending to deliver,” Wayne adds. “Every load that is received, we sample a portion of that load to verify that it matches up.”

Wayne says the laboratory also tests slag and ash generated from the plant’s operations before such materials are transported to a hazardous waste landfill in Indiana.

Containers coming into the facility range from five-gallon buckets to 55-gallon drums, or even larger plastic containers, Lorah notes. “Our warehouse can store about 5,000 55-gallon drums,” he says, as lift trucks are busy moving containers in preparation for incineration.

As barrels are offloaded at the plant, they’re placed on a conveyor and each and every item is scanned and affixed with a barcode, Lorah says. “We make sure what they’ve shipped to us is what we receive,” he emphasizes, and says all of the material and barrels must be accounted for. “We want to make sure there’s not a barrel missing” that, for example, might have fallen from a truck.

“This area is called the balance of plant, or BOP,” Avdellas continues. Essentially, the entire operation on this one side of the plant – the east side – is devoted to preparing the material for incineration. “We receive and prepare material meant for the incinerator,” he says.

In this case, handlers place barrels on carriages that interlock with an overhead conveyor system, not unlike a mechanical operation found in an automotive plant.

The barrels are lifted and conveyed to the second floor where they are transported to the west side of the operation and dumped – barrels and all – into a large, slowly rotating kiln that will burn all of the contents. The empty carriages then return to the first floor and prepare to move more material.

Heritage Thermal Services incinerates approximately 60,000 tons of waste per year, Avdellas says, and every pound of that waste is tracked and monitored through the system. About 1,000 tons of material is recycled.

Much of the operations are monitored from command central – a control booth lined with video monitors that display all operations inside and outside the facility. On this day, Brian Peters is in charge of assessing this hour’s “burn plan,” that is, ensuring that the proper controls are in place to safely incinerate the material.

For this particular batch, an operator maneuvering a clamshell crane in a booth just off the control room bites into a pile of solid waste recently unloaded in one of the plant’s two delivery bays. The clamshell is hoisted in the air and prepares to unload the contents into the kiln, all of which is monitored on the screen. As soon as the kiln is ready – the furnace is burning waste at 1,816 degrees Fahrenheit – the contents are dumped in and the operator prepares for the next load.

“It’s almost like a big recipe book,” Avdellas says of each burn. “We need to meet these certain 27 parameters every minute. If we don’t, there are automatic cutoffs that are in place that won’t allow the operation to go forward.”

Avdellas equates it with a “check engine” light on your vehicle, only without the luxury of time to correct the problem. “When our check engine light comes on, you stop everything right now.”

These safety features effectively control emissions from the operation and ensure that the kiln is operating properly, Lorah says, directing the reporter to a colored screen intended to detect the thermal condition of the exterior of the incinerator.

“You want the outside cool and the inside hot,” he explains. “If it’s cool on the outside, then you know the insulator brick is fine.”

Avdellas says Heritage Thermal invests between $2 million and $4 million annually in capital improvements to the operation, and hopes to increase its business in the near future.

“We’re the closest incinerator to the East Coast,” he notes, adding that many of the operation’s customers are in the Midwest.

“We’re trying to get into the East Coast and the southeast markets,” he says. “Expansion is dictated by market conditions. We’d love to get to 200 employees over the next three to five years if business dictates that.”

Pictured: John Avdellas and Steve Lorah stand outside Heritage Thermal’s hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool.

WATCH VIDEO REPORT

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.