Hatchco doesn't make much of its Emergency Response Team's cleaning up dangerous chemical accidents and oil spills on roads and waterways throughout the region.
"It's a minor source of revenue, and we've kept it kind of low profile," says Larry Mills, vice president and general manager of Hatchco, a 50-year-old Utah trucking firm.But that low profile is hard to maintain and the dollar value of the operation almost impossible to calculate when nearly every news account of a hazardous waste spill mentions that Hatchco is handling the clean-up.
Hatchco's emergency team was called into action Thursday when 240 gallons of sodium cyanide briquettes spilled from a truck on I-15 in central Utah. Five Hatchco crew members were sent to the scene to clean up the deadly chemical, which is fatal if absorbed through the skin and turns into a deadly gas when mixed with water.
Another newsworthy incident was a spill last February on I-80 when a tanker truck laden with 10,000 gallons of heavy oil overturned, bursting into flames and sending the hot crude into surrounding property and a nearby stream. Response team director Lee Nix said that accident sent oil washing into Sugar House and took about three weeks to clean up.
A longtime Utah company and now a subsidiary of Texas-based Jack B. Kelley Inc., Hatchco is one of the few shipping firms in the Mountain West that can clean up its own as well as other's costly spills and accidents.
"They have an awful lot of equipment and expertise, and that's helpful," Kurt Zimmerman, emergency coordinator for the State Health Department, said. "They are one of the better companies that do clean up work for us."
A clean-up crew was a natural outgrowth of Hatchco as the company, then a family-owned business known as W.S. Hatch Co., began hauling crude oil from eastern Utah and eventually became a government certified carrier of rocket fuels and other volatile payloads.
It wasn't until 1983, however, that Hatchco decided to expand the operation to take on hazardous wastes of other operations. Requests to clean up various types of commercial accidents prompted the decision, along with a Hatchco spill of a rocket fuel component in California that cost the firm $100,000 in clean-up fees.
"We didn't want to go through that again, and so we organized our commercial team," Mills said.
Hatchco has invested about $250,000 into specialized clothing and equipment exclusively for emergency clean-up calls and has access to the company's vast inventory of tractors, trailers and trained personnel.
The team consists of four managers and the entire company crew, including some retirees on call, trained to handle most any kind of chemical and petroleum spill.
Mills said profits earned from cleaning up hazardous waste spills are confidential, but he added that Hatchco's "ERT" is profitable and a good service to customers and the public.
He explained that many chemical producers will only deal with shippers who have their own or access to a clean-up operation, so the Emergency Response Team does have its marketing benefits.
Since 1983, the Emergency Response Team has answered more than 83 calls from government health and law enforce
ment agencies and commercial customers to help stabilize and clean up dangerous debris from truck and train accidents or a small spill at local warehouses.
Nix said Hatchco's main responsibility is to stabilize the spill, and by the customer's request clean it up and restore the area to its safe and natural state, then dispose of the waste. Hatchco can also arrange for delivery of uncontaminated cargo.
Hatchco's bread and butter business is hauling volatile products, so it's no surprise to hear Mills defend the thousands of gallons of dangerous substances traveling Utah's freeways and railways.
"Without those substances, industry would be in the dark ages," he said.
"The same things are used in the home and in your garden, but it's just that when it spills in 5,000 gallons, it takes some expertise and a bigger bucket to clean it up," Nix added.
Nix said, noting the team has never suffered a serious accident, that his most dreaded jobs involve poisonous insecticides, red fuming acid or hydrogen sulfide because of their high risk for injury.
But the "war stories" that he and others have about past jobs don't just involve working with dangerous chemicals. ERT members, while thumbing through a photo album of past clean-ups, also reminisce about the people they met and the things they learned while on the job.
While cleaning up a huge oil spill on the Great Salt Lake, Nix recalls breaking through the ice and not floating in the icy salt water. And, after crew members strategically placed pads on the water to soak up the oil, a helicopter from a television news stations came in for a closer look a blew all the pads away.
"We didn't learn everything from training sessions," Nix said. "A lot of what we know comes from just doing it."