This is the story of how one of the smallest environmental labs in the country became the largest and most accredited facility in the United States. It also explains how major industry-leading steps started by ESC - including going paperless in the mid-1990s, recovering over 90% of our sample extract concentration solvent in the early 2000s, and introducing Reduced Volume sample technology in the 2010s - have led to a position of leadership in "Green Practices" and "Reduced Solvent Technologies" within the laboratory industry.
Our story started in 1970. My dad, Dr. Arthur Schulert, a professor of Biochemistry at Vanderbilt University Medical School, founded Environmental Science Corporation when I was ten years old. The first permanent location for ESC was a 2,000 sq. ft. building located at 1776 Mays Chapel Road in Mount Juliet, TN where we initially conducted several research contracts for the National Science Foundation. This was very interesting work and included developing a more accurate method for testing mercury in fish
The EPA's Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water legislation of the early 1970s provided an additional market of Tennessee utilities and industries, adding to the already expanding array of analyses that the laboratory was performing. ESC grew steadily for several years by increasing our share of the drinking water and wastewater testing markets in Tennessee until we became the leading laboratory for utilities testing in Tennessee.
I joined the lab in May of 1987 after getting my chemistry degree from the United States Naval Academy and serving 5 years in the service on nuclear submarines. I was the 6th person hired on staff at ESC during a time when our annual revenue was $250,000.
Our earliest focus was on technology and how to make our lab more efficient and sustainable. We started by building our first LIMS system using IBM PCs with a Token Ring network and a Foxpro Database. Our LIMS and lab automation efforts included sample kit building so that all of the container labels and chain of custody documents would be completed digitally and the bottles organized by Sample ID.
We set up client remote access before the internet was available by providing a bank of modems accessible via a toll-free number where our clients could download sample results in customized spreadsheets. This was the precursor to our current industry-leading data access tools that allow clients to design a table on the fly and save multiple views specific to their needs, including action limits from our comprehensive library of State and Federal regulatory limits.
In 1988, we began testing samples for the Underground Storage Tank program. The next year we added Biomonitoring testing capabilities.
We continued to grow at our Mays Chapel location to about 40 on staff and expanded the facility by adding several trailers around our original 2,000 sq. ft. building.
By the early 1990s ESC had begun to outgrow the Mays Chapel location. In 1993 we moved 4 miles closer to Nashville to our current site on Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet. Initially, we moved our entire laboratory to a single 12,000 sq. ft. building. Since we were leaving a total footprint of about 5,000 sq. ft., the new location seemed like more than enough space. Little did we know at the time, the amount of growth that ESC would undergo in its near future would quickly deem this space insufficient.
My father passed away in September of 1993, just as we were moving to our new lab. We took videos of the new building to the hospital so he could see us at the new location. I believe he took a lot of pride in seeing the company he founded continue to grow and excel in our industry.
ESC continued to expand at this location and added our second building in 1994. We immediately moved our VOC lab in order to gain isolation from solvents being used in our semi-volatile and wet chemistry labs.
In 1997 we implemented our Employee Stock Ownership Program (ESOP) in order to share equity and success with all of our staff. Our ESOP now owns 28% of our company making every ESC employee an owner. All of our assets and real estate are held inside the company and are included in our ESOP valuation. This structure was deliberately implemented (against the advice of several attorneys and accountants) in order to strengthen our ESOP and share all of our success with those who work to make it possible.
Solvent usage by our lab and our industry has always been a pressing concern for ESC. Existing EPA methodology mandates the usage of large quantities of solvent for each Semi-Volatile analysis. Most of this solvent, amounting to millions of pounds for the entire industry, was evaporated into the atmosphere during sample extract concentration. ESC invested heavily in R&D to minimize or eliminate solvent evaporation from the extraction process. This research included exploring alternatives to standard equipment and laboratory practices. In 2004 ESC took the first major step in the reduction of solvent effluence by becoming the first environmental laboratory to utilize Buchi vacuum distillation for sample extract concentration. This step allowed us to recover over 90% of the extraction solvent that was typically released into the atmosphere during the sample preparation process. This was a major improvement, but it wasn't enough.
In 2010 ESC took the largest step toward reducing our environmental impact and improving our sustainability in the history of the environmental lab industry. We were able to incorporate the latest Agilent technology to develop Large Volume Injection (LVI) methods that would support our clients. As a result, we began the conversion of our macro-scale organic extraction methods to micro-scale techniques, eliminating the use of over 98% of the required solvent, while still allowing for necessary sensitivity and low detection limits.
In 2015 ESC brought the Outreach Laboratory team on board. This added radiochemistry to our full-service laboratory.
For over 40 years ESC has reinvested all of our excess earnings back into our laboratory. We are committed to continuing to lead our industry in sustainable practices and technology and we look forward to sharing the benefits of these advancements with our clients