Toxins to Topsoil

EcoWorld - Upward Trend
Jonathan Brewer

When Jonathan Brewer headed west in 1981 to seek his fortune in the goldfields of California, you would think he came 132 years too late. Not so. There’s still a lot of gold in the Sierra and the mining concerns that Brewer worked for in those early years are alive and well. But as fate would have it, the mining industry procedures Brewer learned to extract precious metal from the earth have found him fortune in an ironic twist, by inspiring a unique process he has invented to extract toxic waste from the earth.

EarthWorks Environmental ( is the company founded from this inspiration, and Jonathan Brewer is well on his way to becoming a wealthy man, turning the solid waste processing industry on its ear, and helping the planet, all at once. The patented process that Brewer invented is not all that hard to grasp, it’s just that before he came along, nobody from the mining industry ever tried to tackle the problem of treating contaminated soils. What Brewer has done is built giant hammer mills that can pulverize virtually any type of soil. Chemical tanks on the machine then inject into the atomized soil chemical reactants that neutralize the toxins.

The Eureka

The machines are impressive. Brewer’s latest model, the “Empire” (all of his models are named after famous California mines), can process up to 220 cubic yards of soil per hour. The centerpiece is a 1000 pound roter made from heat-treated steel that spins at 1200 RPM and can reduce to dust up to 6 inch diameter boulders of reinforced concrete.

The benefits of this type of soil remediation are many. Most significantly, conventional methods of soil remediation require the contaminated soil to be removed to an approved toxic waste dump. The problem of the toxins is not eliminated, the toxins are merely relocated. Brewer’s machine cleans the soil completely, allowing it to remain on the original site, and solving the problem forever. “A lot of property owners don’t know that when they have toxic soil removed to a dump, they still have liability for any harm that the toxins may cause,” said Brewer. The soil that comes out of Brewer’s machines is so clean you can use if for a sandbox, or a vegetable garden. Brewer likened the appearance of the soil to “coffee grounds” and said that when they did a project in Wyoming, “the company had to hire a security guard to protect from theft the piles of treated soil because it was the best topsoil in the whole state.”

At work in Gillete, WY

Another key advantage to Brewer’s technology is that in one process both inorganic and organic toxins can be eliminated from soil. “We can treat any toxin for which there is an existing chemical methodology to degrade,” said Brewer. Also, the process can be completed in as long as it takes to run the soil through the machine. The key to the quick reaction is that the pulverizing process reduces the contaminated soil to dust, which has an extremely high surface area to volume ratio, allowing the neutralizing chemicals to be sprayed onto the surface of the dust and almost immediately permeate virtually all the molecules in the soil.

EarthWorks claims their process is much cheaper than other methods of soil cleanup, perhaps by as much as 35%, and unlike trucking the contaminated soil to a toxic waste dump, the soil is cleaned, yielding a permanent solution. Companies and property owners are taking notice. EarthWorks has already done some big cleanups, including 3,500 cubic yards of diesel contaminated soil in Gilette, Wyoming, 2,200 cubic yards of gasoline and MTB contaminated soil in Eureka, California, and 9,000 tons (ongoing) of soil in Santa Rosa, California, contaminated with heavy metals.

Rotor from the Eureka

What does the future hold for EarthWorks? Brewer intends to contract manufacture his soil cleaning machines and license them to the big players in the soil remediation industry. This means he’ll have customers like Radian, TRW, Bechtel, as well as end-users such Chevron who often do their own remediation. The business, of course, has great international potential; Brewer just completed a bid to a major oil company to clean up a site in Brazil.

EarthWorks was founded in 7-95 and incorporated in 7-98. They have four employees and are based in Roseville, California. They are self-funding their expansion and have no long-term debt. Brewer projects having about 100 active machines by 2003, yielding $30 million in annual revenue by that time. That’s an awful lot of toxic soil being turned into potting soil.

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