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Originally published June 7, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 7, 2008 at 9:42 PM

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Northwest 100 Top Five

Number 3 | American Ecology's value-added service gives it an edge

Based on its name, you might think American Ecology manufactures solar panels or organic compost. In fact, the Boise company's stock in...

Founded: 1952

Headquarters: Boise

Operations: Operating facilities in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and Texas; closed ones in Idaho, Nevada, Texas and Illinois

CEO: Stephen Romano

Employees: 238

Major products/services: Transportation, treatment and disposal of hazardous, nonhazardous and radioactive waste

Special sauce: The company's fleet of railcars has allowed it to pursue cleanup business far removed from its disposal sites in the West.

Based on its name, you might think American Ecology manufactures solar panels or organic compost. In fact, the Boise company's stock in trade is some of the nastiest stuff on the planet: industrial hazardous waste and low-level radioactive waste.

The company operates four treatment and disposal facilities in the West, including a small one on the Hanford site near the Tri-Cities. Last year it disposed of 1.1 million tons of toxic waste, up 36 percent from 2006; in the first quarter of this year it took in another 343,000 tons.

The waste comes from across the country — and now from overseas: The Idaho site recently took in 6,700 tons of sand contaminated with depleted uranium from a U.S. military base in Kuwait.

About 46 percent is considered base business: recurring waste streams from oil refineries, steel mills, power plants and the like. The rest is "event" business, from cleanup of contaminated sites.

Right now, American Ecology's single biggest customer is Honeywell International. The company is in the process of taking in 1.2 million tons of ore residue from an old chromite-processing plant in Jersey City, N.J.; that project, which accounted for 41 percent of American Ecology's revenue last year, is scheduled to last until late 2009.

American Ecology won the Honeywell business, as well as other projects back East, in large part because it owns a fleet of 234 specially built railcars and leases about 400 more. That, CEO Stephen Romano said, lets the company offer transportation services as well as disposal.

"We are not making any money on the transportation — we make our money at the landfill," Romano said. "But the railcar fleet is a value-added service that allows us to win work that is very distant."

American Ecology spent $53 million on capital investments over the past three years and will spend an additional $12 million this year. Besides the railcars (and upgraded rail stations in Idaho and Texas), the company has upgraded its Texas and Nevada sites. It's also getting into the business of processing "tank bottoms" — the sludge left over from refining crude oil.

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