Mr. Gammon Goes to Washington
Paul Gammon's Fantabulous Contraption: How one BLM employee's obsession with improving our ecology inspired a midnight dream and a new invention - as well as a Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Award.
story by Megan Harper
What's it like to stand shoulder to shoulder between the Director of the Bureau of Land Management and an official from the Department of the Interior while a crowd applauds?
Just ask BLM Coos Bay District Haz-Mat Specialist and mastermind inventor, Paul Gammon.
In honor of Paul's invention, an environmentally friendly paint can recovery system, Paul had the rare opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C. to accept the Department of the Interior (DOI) Environmental Achievement Award from previous BLM Director Jim Caswell and DOI Assistant Secretary Lynn Scarlett.
"It was an honor to be chosen for the award. When I found out I won, all I could think was holy cow."
But wait, "paint can recovery?" Is that something someone spends time thinking about? Absolutely! Paul's creation was a labor of love for many months.
Each year Coos Bay and other BLM Districts conduct tree marking - the process of selectively applying paint to specific trees prior to thinning or harvest. While this process helps the BLM maintain a healthy forest, it also generates thousands of used spray cans which contain small amounts of paint.
These cans and the paint they contain are designated hazardous materials and must be treated as such. In the past, the BLM collected this paint in 55-gallon drums. And that's when Paul decided it was high time for a new process to safely collect and reuse this material.
So one night around midnight as Paul lay awake, he was struck by inspiration. Jumping up, he snatched nearby pen and paper and set to scratching out his rough design for a new system.
"It was so simple," said Paul. "It actually took me awhile to explain the system to people because they didn't believe that it could be so straightforward."
Receiving the green light from Coos Bay District Manager Mark Johnson, Paul traveled to a local metal shop which constructed the fantabulous contraption which would soon make him famous.
Paul's system is about the size of a refrigerator box and sits in the Coos Bay Warehouse. Each month a contractor operates Paul's invention to puncture used cans and collect the remaining paint. This system collects almost 1.5 gallons of paint every 90 days. And while that amount of paint may not sound significant, the process itself saves the BLM substantial hazardous material disposal fees. And, perhaps more importantly, Paul's mechanism protects employees from exposure to hazardous chemicals.
So what happens to the collected trace amounts of paint? Well, it all turns black, the definition of the presence of all colors once the pink, green, and blue get mixed together. And then this recovered paint is used to freshen up District utility trailers. Nothing is wasted!
Recognition of Paul and his recovery system may not be over. He's been nominated for the White House Closing the Circle Award which recognizes outstanding achievements of Federal employees and their facilities for efforts resulting in significant contributions to waste prevention and recycling. And until then Paul can revel in his DOI award recognizing his accomplishments in the recycling world: a statue made of recycled window glass.
More info and a diagram of Paul Gammon's paint recovery system at the Department of the Interior's homapage.