On the edge of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, a city's mayor was faced with a costly problem.
Upon taking office in January 1996, Mayor Michael Albano found that Springfield, Mass., was under an order from the Environmental Protection Agency to do something about combined sewer overflows that were polluting the city's waterways.
The conventional way to deal with the problem would have been to capture and treat the city's storm water. But that would have been too expensive for the 150,000-resident community.
"We determined that the cost to do all CSOs would be upwards over a half a billion dollars," Albano said in a Feb. 28 telephone interview. "That would bankrupt the city."
The city's more economical answer was a plastic filtering device from Scottsdale, Ariz.-based AbTech Industries Inc. The city puts filters in catch basins or storm drains, where they work like a sponge to trap overflow impurities.
"I was introduced to the technology several years ago," Albano said. "We tested it throughout the city and were very impressed with the results."
The device, called the Ultra-Urban Filter, traps trash and sediment in an internal basket and contains special filter media that remove harmful hydrocarbons, like gasoline and oil, from the water.
"It's a product that we were very impressed with," Albano said.
AbTech, a 5-year-old company, extrudes the filters using a proprietary technology that combines ethylene propylene and styrene butadiene. The box, mesh and straps of the devices are manufactured from polypropylene.
"We expect this market to be huge — in terms of billions of dollars," said Rodolfo Manzone, AbTech's chief technology officer. "Our share, we cannot define; we hope, of course, to have the largest share. We believe we have the most technologically advanced solution."
Springfield and other cities were forced to find a way to deal with the Environmental Protection Agency's storm water program, which mandates preservation, protection and improvement of water sources for municipalities of 10,000 people or greater, as well as construction sites, according to Bryan Rittenhouse, an environmental scientist in EPA's Water Permits Division.
Albano said cities are under pressure to take action immediately.
"The biggest challenge in urban America today, financially, is a clean environment," he said. "We have looked to find alternative methods to keep water clean."
The Ultra-Urban Filter has been tested in California, Florida, Georgia and Washington state, and it is working in New Jersey, New York and locations around New England.
Manzone would not disclose AbTech's sales.