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Perspective On: An Environmental Research Lab

Clean Harbors of Baltimore, Inc., is a transfer storage and disposal facility and part of the largest hazardous waste disposal company in North America.The facility provides recycling, treatment and disposal of a variety of hazardous and nonhazardous wastes and analyzes hundreds of samples each month.

by Sara Goudarzi

With the Right Team & Proper Training, Challenges Can be Overcome

Clean Harbors of Baltimore, Inc., is a transfer storage and disposal facility and part of the largest hazardous waste disposal company in North America. Clean Harbors provides recycling, treatment and disposal of a variety of hazardous and nonhazardous wastes.

In order to ensure proper treatment and disposal of incoming waste, the facility analyzes incoming waste to determine safe and feasible treatment options to ensure that the materials leaving the plant meet or exceed environmental requirements.

“Every incoming tanker, railcar, roll-off box or drum full of industrial hazardous waste gets researched to determine its hazardous characteristics and the compliant method(s) we should employ to safely treat this waste at our plant,” says Bill Fornoff, laboratory manager, Clean Harbors Environmental Services.

“The lab also researches industrial waste samples that customers send to see if the plant can process their waste,” he adds.

Additionally, because of the tools and capabilities of the Baltimore lab, Fornoff and his staff also take on research projects for other Clean Harbors facilities.

“Research projects can include determining the unknown chemical makeup of certain wastes or process streams,” Fornoff says. “We also research new instrumental tools that might be applicable to our field of work. We may also design chemical treatment procedures to treat wastes being received at other facilities.”

Lab structure and managerial roles

Fornoff manages Clean Harbors of Baltimore’s 1,500-square-foot laboratory located on the company’s six-acre campus. He currently has a staff of four full-time and two part-time chemists reporting to him. Together his team analyzes hundreds of samples each month.

“In February 2012, the lab chemists analyzed 500 incoming tanker and railcar samples representing approximately 2.5 million gallons of industrial wastewater,” he says. “In that same month we analyzed 360 internal plant process samples. We also analyzed 12 incoming generator samples for approval into the plant and had a few projects for other facilities.”

The staff consists of chemists and environmental engineers holding either Bachelor of Science or Master of Science degrees.

Fornoff, who reports directly to the facility’s general manager, has a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Elon University in North Carolina and a Master of Science in environmental science and policy from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland.

“I started with Clean Harbors of Baltimore in 1994 as a receiving chemist,” he says. “In 1996, I went into customer service. In January 2000, I took a position as second-shift lab supervisor in Baltimore. In March 2000, the lab manager left the organization and I was assigned the lab manager position.”

In 2007, Fornoff was given the opportunity to branch out and assist the many labs within the company. He travels to the various Clean Harbors labs to perform audits, help train lab personnel, install instrumentation and assist in solving problems.

“I also keep an inventory of the [more than] 350 pieces of lab instrumentation that we have throughout [our more than] 25 labs in the company,” he says. “This way, as a company, we can utilize our internal resources before going outside to make big purchases.”

Additionally, Fornoff assists in managing two large corporate service agreements.

“We have a corporate agreement with PerkinElmer for our company ICP-MS, ICP and AAs. We have a corporate agreement with Full Spectrum for our GC/MS, GC and TOCs,” he says. “I am also involved with our various lab supply vendors such as Thermo Fisher to leverage our buying power to get the best pricing on lab items we purchase.”

Lab manager, Bill Fornoff, in front of Clean Harbors of Baltimore’s clean extraction system bench extractor, used to determine distribution coefficients of dissolved organic compounds in an aqueous solution with supercritical carbon dioxide. It also allows lab personnel to see how a wastewater stream will react when mixed with supercritical CO2. Photo credit: Sue D. Richardson.

Clean Harbors of Baltimore’s first and second shift lab chemists. From left to right: Carlton Nelson, Calvin Fabio, Petre Ionescu, Bill Fornoff, and Arvind Thanki. Photo credit: Sue D. Richardson.

Inventory, maintenance and hiring

In order to run experiments on schedule, a senior chemist performs a monthly inventory. Additionally, Fornoff maintains an inventory sheet where all the chemists can make a note about any items that might be running low in the laboratory.

To maintain the variety of instruments used, the lab utilizes corporate service agreements, which offer annual preventive maintenance services and emergency onsite and over-the-phone repairs.

“Daily maintenance is performed by senior chemists,” Fornoff says. “I and my most senior chemist do GC-MS and GC maintenance [on items such as] inlets, columns, detectors [and] traps [and do] source cleaning, etc.

“It is very important that each instrument is running and producing accurate results,” he adds. “It is an additional challenge when one or maybe even multiple instruments are not cooperating. Maybe they are not passing calibration verification or curve linearity, or [they] might be down altogether and require a column change or source cleaning.”

Because the laboratory has just a handful of staff, it’s important for any new members to quickly integrate themselves into the current team and keep up with the work level. For this reason Fornoff is very particular when it comes to hiring.

“I receive resumes screened by our recruiters,” Fornoff says. “I’ll schedule and perform the initial interviews [and] will normally have potential candidates come back for a second interview with me and plant management. It takes a certain type of scientist to fill the role of lab chemist at Clean Harbors. I typically try to scare them off first until I can see they are [people who are] good fits for this fast-paced, challenging work.”


Most days the lab in Maryland handles 20 to 30 5,000-gallon tankers that have to be analyzed and released to the proper facility processing location.

“Each tanker may have from 10 to 18 different types of analytical methods that have to be completed to fulfill our permit requirements and best management protocols to enable us to safely decide how to handle the waste material,” Fornoff explains.

“These tanker loads often have truck drivers on the clock waiting [for the material] to get off-loaded,” he adds. “So we look to turn around samples within two hours.”

Another big challenge is when a customer waste load does not match what they’d initially indicated they were sending to the lab. This often requires the operation managers to work as a team with the company’s sales team and the client to come up with solutions.

“Another big challenge is to quickly turn around samples that generators send us to see if we can take their waste,” Fornoff says. “We have to spend a lot of time with these to make sure our plant process will work to compliantly treat their waste and that there will be no incompatibility issues. However, in the meantime, the generator’s holding tank is at or near capacity, and they need to maintain their production too, [so] they need it gone.”

These challenges are exactly the reason Fornoff loves his job—with the right team and proper training, the challenges make every day different.

“Every day has a problem or many problems to solve, and I enjoy solving problems,” he says. “I also enjoy working with the team at the plant and the team of lab managers across Clean Harbors.”

A sampling of Clean Harbors of Baltimore’s laboratory instruments, including a TOC analyzer, two GC-MS systems, a GC, an AA and an ICP. Photo credit: Sue D. Richardson.

The challenges also provide incentive for Fornoff ’s staff, who are given opportunities to learn many different methods.

“We have a wide variety of instrumentation in the lab, from pH meters to GC-MS systems,” Fornoff says. This lab can allow a person to branch off into many different types of specialties and to experience the most demanding and sophisticated samplepreparation and analytical techniques. “It’s a win-win for the company and the chemist who wants to be challenged on a daily basis.”

Specialties include analytical chemistry, research and development, instrumentation training and repair, water and wastewater treatment, compliance, regulations and environmental laws, engineering and consulting, lab reagents and equipment sales.

“A chemist has the opportunity to learn many different methods in a very short time.”

Each chemist gets to run each instrument every day. Also, each result is not just a number [but also] a piece of the puzzle of how to handle thousands of gallons and pounds of waste.

“Once you have proven yourself, upper management gives you the freedom to try out ideas and really put your mark on the company.”


Although the organization provides opportunities for employees to grow and make a difference in the company, Fornoff believes that as a manager he can play a major role in the success of his staff and laboratory. Much of this comes from communicating with the lab staff.

“Listen to each employee [and] acknowledge their concerns or goals and get an answer for them,” he says. “Leave the door and your phone open. Encourage team members to come into the office or call anytime. Communicate your expectations and then follow up.”

In addition to communicating about work affairs, Fornoff believes that getting to know each of his employees adds an extra dimension for opening doors to exchanging ideas.

“Get to know something about each person, like what [his or her] hobby is or a favorite sports team or pet, something that you can keep up with and easily start a conversation with,” he adds.

And finally, he believes that being a leader and teacher is an important aspect of a manager’s role.

“Push and reinforce safety every day,” he says. “Find each team member’s strength and when possible, develop a side project for them that builds on that strength.”

In addition to fostering communication within the lab, Fornoff considers it important for a manager to be able to interact with the clients. This is especially essential because his lab handles material that’s highly regulated due to its hazardous potential; therefore he wants to ensure that clients trust the facility to manage their waste in a safe and responsible manner.

“Be the voice of the lab to the outside world. In other words, be able to explain and simplify lab speak in terms that the folks in management and everyone else can understand.”

The company also takes great care in communicating about their work with the local community to show that their work benefits those around them.

“We allow tours of our facility and lab to local students, businesses and public emergency responders,” Fornoff says. “We want to show what we do and how we hold compliance and health and safety to the highest standards. We strive to have a positive impact on our community.”

Top 5 Instruments:
PerkinElmer 2100DV ICP-OES
Agilent 6890 with PID/ELCD
HP 5890/5972 GC/MS
Parr 6400 Calorimeter
HP 5890 with dual ECDs