Sanitary Services, NEC

SIC 4959

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

This category includes establishments primarily engaged in cleanup and maintenance activities that are not classified in other sanitary industries. Activities covered by this industry classification include beach maintenance and cleaning, malaria control, mosquito eradication, oil spill cleanup, snowplowing, street sweeping, and vacuuming airport runways.

One of the 2010 industry leaders was Waste Management Inc. of Houston, Texas, which through several subsidiaries provided services to 20 million clients in the United States and Canada. With 43,400 employees, Waste Management had sales of $11.7 billion in 2009. Stericycle Inc. of Lake Forest, Illinois. Stericycle, which had annual sales of $1.1 billion and 8,199 employees, provided medical and pharmaceutical waste management services at 126 locations in the United States as well as in several other countries around the world. Waste Connections Inc. of Folsom, California, also had annual sales around $1.1 billion. With 5,409 employees, Waste Connections provided solid waste management services to about 2 million customers in 26 states, although its primary markets were in the West.

Most establishments in the industry are small, local companies that operate on a contract basis, typically for business and municipal clients. For instance, many firms that offer commercial snowplowing, street cleaning, and runway clearing services are small, family-operated businesses. These companies typically act as subcontractors and bid on service contracts for property managers, government agencies, or institutions. The labor and capital-intensive nature of sanitation services, combined with the competitive bidding process, results in characteristically low profit margins for industry participants. Furthermore, low barriers to entry create an extremely competitive pricing environment.

Approximately 5,451 establishments performed miscellaneous sanitation services in the United States in the early 2010s, according to Dun & Bradstreet. Together these firms employed approximately 49,252 workers and generated annual sales of $4.2 billion. After sanitation services, snowplowing was the largest category in the industry, accounting for 1,805 establishments and $529.7 million in sales in 2009, followed by environmental cleanup with 976 establishments and $1.3 billion in sales; sweeping services (road, airports, parking lots) with 818 establishments and $456.5 million in sales; and toxic or hazardous waste cleanup, with 183 establishments and $400.6 million sales. About 111 establishments specialized in oil spill cleanup, with $383 million in sales in 2009. This figure was expected to increase significantly by the end of 2010 due to the magnitude of the Gulf oil spill.

In the late twentieth century, businesses in this industry benefited from an increased emphasis by commercial property managers on maintenance in order to retain tenants. This, combined with moderate growth in government spending, partially offset increased competition and stagnant prices among sanitary industry participants.

Environmental awareness of unhealthy conditions also helped the industry. In 1999, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) began publishing survey results of approximately 935 public beaches that regularly monitor water quality. The EPA's own review of 1,062 coastal beaches and the Great Lakes the previous year indicated that 350 had an advisory or closing. Beach maintenance often was contracted out to private companies but remained a local responsibility. In Hollywood, Florida, for example, the public works division purchased a sanitizer that cleaned the beach sand and redistributed it along its 5 miles of beaches. Each year, crews collected more than 500,000 pounds of litter and 440 cubic yards of shoreline debris.

As the twentieth century neared a close, increasing numbers of Americans were washing with antibacterial soaps, drinking bottled water, employing the latest electronic pest deterrents, and contributing to environmental charities in record amounts. According to a 1999 study released by the American Enterprise Institute, this was with good reason--it found that basic public health measures, including "drinkable water and sanitation services," have the greatest effect on life expectancy.

The industry benefited from stringent new federal regulations enacted after the 11-million-gallon Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound (Alaska) in 1989. According to some reports, less than 50 percent of the rescued wildlife survived that incident. Ten years and $45 million later, 1999 populations for the bald eagle and river otter were recovered. Sea otters, harbor seals, harlequin ducks, herring, salmon, and one pod of killer whales were reported as "not recovering." Another decade brought more information to experts on the effects of the oil spill. According to an Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry study, as of 2010 harlequin ducks were still exposed to the oil, as they ate mussels and snails buried in contaminated beach sands. Said Stanley Rice of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, "We used to think of things in terms of a couple of years. Now we think of things in a couple of decades."

The effects of the largest oil spill in history, which occurred in April 2010, were barely realized as the first year of the new decade neared a close. An explosion on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon, leased by oil company BP and operating off the coast of Louisiana, left the oil well gushing an estimated 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons of crude oil a day into the ocean. The well could not be capped until July, by which time hundreds of millions of gallons of oil had spilled into the ocean, causing unprecedented damage to marine life and wildlife habitats, as well as crippling the Gulf Shore's fishing and tourism industries. The federal government held BP responsible for the spill, and, with help from the Coast Guard, the company enacted cleanup operations that involved about 43,000 workers and more than 7,000 vessels, according to Reuters.

Many companies and city governments established oil spill readiness plans that provided for quick mobilization of spill cleanup contractors in the event of another such emergency. Companies most likely to benefit in this sector are those that have access to the latest technology related to disaster cleanup equipment and chemicals. Waste Management Inc. was one of these companies, as was Handex Environmental Recovery Inc. of Morganville, New Jersey.

© COPYRIGHT 2018 The Gale Group, Inc. This material is published under license from the publisher through the Gale Group, Farmington Hills, Michigan. All inquiries regarding rights should be directed to the Gale Group. For permission to reuse this article, contact the Copyright Clearance Center.

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