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Sansai: Overcomes Adversity with Brilliant Idea E-mail
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Monday, 03 September 2007


Sansai: Overcomes Adversity with Brilliant Idea

By Mark Dressler

Freelance Writer

Cleveland, Ohio

Environmental Company Receives Rave Reviews

Entrepreneur Jamie Melvin strikes a chord in the city of Cleveland, Ohio by upending an old factory building to bring in Sansai Environmental Technologies, LLC. “Sansai,” (pronounced San-Say) a word dredged from ancient Japanese Samurai culture, symbolizes the balance of the supernatural powers above (the universe), the natural powers below (earth) and the powers at hand (man).

Sansai’s founders believe that heaven, earth and mankind, along with the environment and technology, all play a major role in their business.

Sansai Environmental Technologies, LLC is a Cleveland-based company operating within the 17-acre Richard Melvin Building, a facility formerly known as the TRW Automotive Valve Plant. CEO Jamie Melvin explains, “Sansai manufactures an environmentally sound line of premium soil products for crops, trees, golf courses, lawns, vegetable and flower gardens and indoor/outdoor plants. Sansai reclaims material that many businesses, governments and industries usually dump into landfills. By diverting the now-recovered resource, Sansai makes it possible for its affiliate businesses, city and county governments to save thousands, even millions of dollars. Sansai also allows surrounding communities to one day recover and redeem land and space that was formerly allocated for management of the waste stream.”

Sansai employs earthworms, housing them in enclosed patent-pending process machinery. In early spring of 2005, Sansai applied for their business-operating permit from the city of Cleveland. Sansai was turned down. Besides inaccurate concerns over odor, traffic and sanitary issues, the city denied Sansai their business permit by applying an outdated and inaccurate definition that stated Sansai was producing a fertilizer. The concerns were groundless. Sansai’s process is odor-free and upholds EPA and health code standards. Also, the process Sansai uses is much more environmentally friendly than the former practices of producing high-pressure motor valves in the same facility. In addition, there are no plans to cause the same amount of truck traffic as required by the previous owner of the property.

The Board of Zoning Appeals upheld the definition of a “fertilizer producing” company for Sansai’s process even though Board Member Tim Donovan pointed out they should wait and reconsider applying the 1939 definition of fertilizer to Sansai, when it was referring only to chemically produced fertilizer. Present day usage of the term includes all natural plant food products and Sansai does not use any chemicals in its organic process. Therefore, Sansai being defined as a “fertilizer producer” is inherently incorrect. But the Board voted before further discussion with two saying “yes” for Sansai moving forward; three voting “no”: apply the outdated version of fertilizer to its process.

The fledgling company was forced to divert time and energy from starting operations into the political arena by appealing the decision for denying their business license due to zoning. Sansai petitioned that the zoning of general industry, the same used only a few years before by the prior building owner, TRW, to manufacture automotive valves and electroplate metal components, be applicable for Sansai to bring bruised fruits, vegetables, autumn leaves and recycled newspaper into the plant for an organic process called vermicomposting. The end products from Sansai and TRW are entirely different, as are the by-products. Vermicomposting creates only water, which is reused in its process, while oil and metal waste were common materials in need of disposal by the manufacturing and heavy-duty lab testing that used to go on in the plant.

However, Sansai was not without support. Before the hearing, a multitude of letters from influential people from all over the country poured into the Cleveland Mayor’s office.

Johnathan Hanson, an environmental scientist and a former corporate environmental manager with Anheuser-Busch now working as an environmental scientist for EnSafe, a consulting firm located in Beachwood, Ohio commented, “Sansai’s process seeks to mimic nature by harnessing one of the same processes Mother Nature uses to make soil, that is, organic material degradation via earthworms. This fact makes this proposed potting soil manufacturing process ecologically ideal, and profoundly dissimilar from the manufacture of chemical fertilizer.” Hanson explained, in detail, how “dissimilar” the fertilizer manufacturing process is from vermicomposting. “Assessing the embodied energy associated with nitrogen fertilizer manufacturing would entail the assessment of all ingredients within the synthesis process. The Haber-Bosch process, which is a commonly employed process for making nitrogen fertilizer, also produces ammonia. This ammonia is used to produce nitric acid. A reaction product of ammonia and nitric acid produces ammonium nitrate, a common fertilizer,” he stated.

During the hearing environmental and industry experts also voiced their endorsements for Sansai. A retired FBI agent with expertise in bio-terrorism said Sansai’s product would not be considered a harmful fertilizer because it does not contain a key ingredient that government agencies would monitor. That ingredient? The one Hansen explained above in the process of creating common nitrogen based fertilizer: ammonium nitrate. For years, the U.S. Bureau of Mines has been monitoring and trying to keep a lid on the explosive behavior of chemicals. “This especially includes ammonium nitrate, which is not only a major ingredient of virtually all nonmilitary explosives, but which has a long history of involvement in accidental explosions,” said J. Edmund Hay, Research Physicist of the U.S. Bureau of Mines and the Pittsburgh Research Center, on June 13th, 1995, before the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on the Judiciary. Hay said, “Ammonium nitrate is the least expensive and most widely available used ingredient in commercial explosives.” He said it is available in two basic forms: “a blasting agent ingredient” and “for use as fertilizer.”

Clive Edwards, PhD, of Ohio State University, educator, author and world authority on earthworms and vermicomposting was asked to testify about Sansai’s process. “No,” he said before the Board and a crowded room full beyond capacity in Cleveland’s City Hall, “I would not classify it (-worm castings as produced by Sansai-) as a fertilizer.”

Dr. Bruce Latimer, Executive Director of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, wrote a two-page letter to the Mayor of Cleveland. Dr. Latimer noted, “A small amount of castings added to potted plants or agricultural fields has been proven in lab studies to increase crop yields, confer greater disease resistance and improve the water retention levels of the soil. Chemically manufactured, petroleum-based fertilizers do not have all of these.” He also added, “The Cleveland Museum of Natural History supports vermicomposting as a real, scientific process with important conservation benefits.”

On the issue of cleanliness and odors, Dave Hall, a visiting earthworm farmer from New York, who also employs a less sophisticated vermicomposting process than Sansai, sent a letter to The Cleveland Plain Dealer, Crain’s Cleveland Business Magazine, the Mayor’s office and the Board of Zoning Appeals after he saw the Sansai video clip on the Cleveland television news. In his letter he stated his respect for the Sansai process. He wrote, “People who come to see my facility are amazed at how clean it is. There is no smell. My operation is all enclosed. I do not produce fertilizer. I produce an all natural substance: earthworm castings.”

Other letters discussed the impact and effects Sansai and its processes will have on the region and the environment. Carol Goland, executive director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, wrote directly to the mayor’s office, “The process at Sansai will close the loop on a portion of our resources by creating a product that offers an opportunity to expand sustainable husbandry of our land. We encourage you to positively consider this project for your city.”

The support for Sansai did not stop there. One letter from Peter Bogdanov, president of Vermico of Grants Pass, Oregon stated, “We at Vermico are experts on the process of vermiculture and have been providing education and guidance to the public since 1996. We see this operation as an essential step for our society to take in order to move into greater harmony with nature. Sansai proposes to close the loop on our resources in a way in which all parties involved, from suppliers, to the neighborhood, to the end user all win.”

Adding to these letters, there was growing support from the local community. On a blazing hot, July morning, the day of the hearing, news media arrived to cover concerned citizens in favor of Sansai storming the steps of City Hall with protest signs. They attempted to sway the zoning board with chants of “Earthworms Grow Good Food!” and “Save Our Future!” One sign stated, “Earthworms, Not Chemicals.” Another one read, “Go Sansai . . . Grow!” John F. Kennedy’s likeness was pictured with “Ask What You Can Do For The Earthworm.” Another sign had Abraham Lincoln’s image coupled with, “Earthworms Are Self-Evident.”

Others spoke about the benefits that Sansai would bring to Cleveland. Norman Aranacon, PhD, from Ohio State University stated, “I have every confidence that this venture will boost not only the economy of the city of Cleveland by providing employment, but will also produce safe, valuable products.”

Edwin Shank, a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) accredited professional with Comfort Systems, USA stated that Sansai is, “another step in creating the ‘Green City on the Blue Lake’.”

Responding on the steps of City Hall after the hearing, Dr. Clive Edwards said, “Sansai’s technology has enormous potential for great commercial success and it will provide considerable economic benefits to Cleveland and its environs. Sansai has been our great hope for the success of the vermicomposting industry.”

“Cleveland and Northeast Ohio are turning the economic corner and Sansai can help this happen,” said James S. Kish, President of Engineering Elements, Inc., with active projects in Ohio and five other states. “This is the best thing that I have seen for a long time. We should do all we can to make this happen right here on East 185th Street in Cleveland, Ohio.”

Melvin’s Sansai is about to put Cleveland on the map as the first major municipal city in the United States to be the home of a booming and sustainable business reclaiming recoverable resources, otherwise headed to overburdened landfills. By feeding a pre-consumer product to the earthworm species eisenia fetida, also known as the red wiggler, Sansai will manufacture earthworm castings for natural stimulation of the growth rate of pest-free food crops, turf, shrubs, trees, orchards and flowers. Castings have properties that repels pests, mold and fungi. Soil scientists, gardeners, vineyard growers and farmers alike are very familiar with this valuable substance.

In the end, Melvin appeared before the Board of Zoning Appeals yet again on a cold day in November and this time Sansai Environmental Technologies’ business license was allowed by applying a variance to the general industry zoning definition. Sansai finally was approved by the City of Cleveland to begin its plans of becoming the “Green City on the Blue Lake.”


Last Updated ( Tuesday, 04 September 2007 )
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