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Circle Finishing, Inc.
Maintaining a Commitment to Pollution Prevention

A Case Study from Pollution Prevention in the Merrimack River Watershed


This case study is one of a collection published by the Northeast Business Environmental Network (NBEN). For a copy of the booklet, “Pollution Prevention in the Merrimack River Watershed, A Collection of Case Studies”, contact NBEN’s Executive Director via email or contact NBEN using the address or phone number at the bottom of this page.



When Circle Finishing, Inc. relocated in 1995, after a devastating fire a few days before Christmas 1993, its owners maintained their commitment to P2.
The Newburyport, Massachusetts, metal finishing company was winding up its best year ever, and 1994 promised to be even better, recalls Rod L’Italien Jr., general manager and chemical engineer, whose family owns the business. Part of its success was due to the pollution prevention equipment that Circle Finishing installed in 1990 and 1991. As a result, Circle Finishing saved an estimated $10,000 in water, chemical, and sewer fees during the first year.

Replacing the “State of the Art”

A few years after its founding in 1968, Circle Finishing installed what was then a state-of-the-art computerized treatment system. It treated the water used to wash the metal parts being plated or anodized so that the water could be discharged to Newburyport’s sewer system. The turn-key treatment system was supposed to operate with minimal attention.
Instead, the system was wasteful and plagued with problems. It accounted for most of Circle Finishing’s chemical use. L’Italien needed a better way to treat the 10,000 to 15,000 gallons of water that the company used each day.
His solution was to collect the wastewater and treat it in batches, rather than as a continual stream. But Circle Finishing used too much water to make batching practical, so L’Italien first sought ways to reduce water use. He installed spray rinses that dispensed water only on demand. That change, plus recycling rinse water, cut Circle Finishing’s daily water use and its waste-water generation to 1,000 gallons.

Next, batch tanks were installed in pairs; one collected wastewater while the other tank’s contents were being treated. Because small batches of collected wastewater were treated as needed, operators could target the treatment to the waste constituents, thus reducing chemical use.
The pollution prevention improvements cost an estimated $75,000. They were made little by little, and Circle Finishing personnel did as much of the work as possible. L’Italien estimates this “do it yourself” approach saved 50 to 75 percent of the cost of new equipment.

As a result of these measures, Circle Finishing’s sulfuric acid use plummeted from 18,000 pounds in 1990 to 3,000 pounds in 1991. Its sodium hydroxide use fell from 20,000 pounds to 5,000 pounds during the same period, and hydrochloric acid use dropped by 90 percent. And because Circle Finishing was using, treating, and discharging less water, it qualified for a less expensive discharge permit.
Circle Finishing’s monitoring and reporting requirements were also drastically reduced. The payback period for these P2 investments, L’Italien estimates, was less than three years.

Circle Finishing was enjoying the benefits of these and other pollution prevention measures when fire destroyed its building on Route 1.

Circle Finishing set up its anodizing operations in a nearby industrial park in April 1995. The company also rents electroplating equipment and shop space 45 miles away in Westford.
Although the financial impacts of the fire remain, so does the company’s commitment to pollution prevention. Circle Finishing invested an estimated $75,000 in a recycling system that pumps rinse water from station to station in the anodizing process. The rinse water is purified in ion exchange columns, which remove metals and dissolved salts from the water. Low-pressure evaporators concentrate the removed acids and rinse water that can no longer be recycled. The company uses about 400 gallons of water daily.
Not a drop of wastewater has been discharged to city sewers. Only an average of one 55-gallon drum of acidic waste is hauled away for disposal each month, at a cost of about $170 a drum. That’s down substantially from the $300 to $400 that Circle Finishing would have paid in the late ’80s, another benefit of the growing adoption of P2 practices that have made the hazardous waste market more competitive, L’Italien says.