For Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health, Disasters Mean Business

Employees from the Center for Toxicology & Environmental Health LLC of North Little Rock arrived in Houston on Aug. 27, two days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.

As historic rain continued, flooding thousands of homes and businesses, the environmental consulting firm was on the scene, using its equipment to provide air monitoring and other services for the U.S. Coast Guard, said Cory Davis, a partner and principal consultant at CTEH.

Employees also assessed chemical plants in the area that had flooded.

“It’s everything from a Kroger store to a chemical plant to people’s homes and apartment complexes and hotels, all underwater,” said Davis, who was part of the Houston mission. “So the size and magnitude of this recovery effort is something that I don’t think we’ve seen in this country.”

CTEH has been on many disaster scenes in its 20-year history, including the World Trade Center after 9/11 and New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Last week, nearly 160 of its responders were in the Houston area. It also was adding about 25 technicians a day to prepare for Hurricane Irma and to continue supporting the Houston-area cleanup effort.

Founded in 1997, CTEH got its start dealing with chemical spills from train derailments, but it “rapidly evolved” to include services such as risk assessment, crisis management and training, said Phil Goad, a founder and principal toxicologist.

Last year it started a global preparedness and crisis management team that handles large-scale disasters. It also recently started a subsidiary, CTEH Government Services, a disaster-recovery division that focuses on rehabilitating residential properties after floods.

Its services to the Federal Emergency Management Agency include ensuring that all wet items have been removed from homes, and that the homes are livable.

Goad declined to reveal revenue figures for the company, or to disclose what various services cost. Its customers include manufacturers, transporters and the end users of chemical products, and it also works for government agencies other than FEMA, including the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality.

“So when there is a chemical release in the state of Mississippi, if the responsible party is not already a client of ours and asks us to respond, the state of Mississippi sends us out,” Goad said.

Goad, 62, said he’s pretty much retired now, but he’s involved in the company’s planning and is available to mentor the firm’s next generation of leaders, such as John Kind, principal toxicologist and director of toxicology. Kind is operating the consulting side of the business while Davis is leading the response and recovery side.

Starting in 2013, CTEH’s founders began selling majority interest in the company to its employees, who number about 125. It also has a fleet of rapid responders who are on call and can get to a disaster site within hours.

CTEH is now working more than a dozen disasters in the United States. “We have something going on around the country virtually all the time,” Goad said.

In the late 1980s, Goad, Glenn Millner and Alan Nye all had Ph.D. degrees in toxicology from the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and were working for a consulting firm. One of their first assignments was a train derailment in Rison.

“We were toxicologists, so we could talk about the health impacts of the chemical spill,” Goad said.

They also could collect and interpret data about the environment and help officials make decisions that involved whether to order an evacuation or whether an accident site was safe for workers to return.

In 1991, they assisted with a train derailment in California.

“What we began to see was that we were developing a niche and a reputation and an ability to quickly respond to chemical releases … primarily in the railroad industry,” Goad said.

Goad, Millner and Nye were teaching as adjunct professors at UAMS when they started talking about launching their own niche business. With Jay Gandy, a tenured professor at UAMS, they began CTEH in 1997. (Gandy sold his shares to the other founders in 2010.)

“I think between us we probably had zero business courses,” Goad said. “I never had a lecture or a class in how do you run a business.”

They turned to BioVentures, a business incubator that was then new at UAMS, for help. CTEH had a profit-sharing agreement that lasted about two years with BioVentures, Goad said. UAMS said in an email to Arkansas Business last week that under the agreement with CTEH, UAMS received incubator fee payments that totaled $12,260.

CTEH left the incubator program in 2001. “At that point we felt like we had spread our wings enough that we were able to fly on our own,” Goad said.

A key turning point for the company was 9/11. CTEH was hired by Deutsche Bank to assess its 42-story building that had been next to the World Trade Centers.

Debris from the twin towers, which included lead from computer terminals, asbestos and other materials, was “everywhere” inside the Deutsche Bank building, even in the electrical outlets, Goad said.

Deutsche Bank wanted to know if the building could be restored. “So that was a pure toxicology risk assessment project,” Goad said.

The building couldn’t be saved and was eventually razed. But the work led to other jobs for CTEH.

The company created air-quality guidelines for New York City for demolishing and rebuilding other structures that had been contaminated with World Trade Center dust. CTEH also worked with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “in addressing air quality issues associated with the contaminants from these buildings,” Goad said.

The 9/11 experience “expanded the kind of scope and the kinds of projects that we were being involved in,” Goad said. CTEH also worked with the EPA in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. In that case, CTEH had more than 1,600 people working under its direction, Goad said. “We were responsible for all the air monitoring along the Gulf Coast in the communities,” he said.

In the mid-2000s, CTEH outgrew its office in Little Rock. In 2006, CTEH Properties LLC bought an undeveloped 3.7-acre location on Northshore Drive in North Little Rock for $372,000 and proceeded to build the company’s headquarters. The development of the property was supported by an 11-year loan of $3.28 million from Regions Bank. CTEH’s 18,540-SF office opened in 2007.

CTEH also began opening satellite offices across the country starting in the 2000s. “Everyone is expected to be on call and take call 24 hours, 7 days a week. It doesn’t matter,” said CTEH’s Davis. “We’ve got to be available to respond.”