Inventor hopes for a hit
By JOSH ZIMMER, Times Staff Writer
CITRUS PARK -- The future for Albert DeChard really began a decade ago.
The former charter captain was hosing down his fishing boat one day when an environmental inspector came around with a warning: Letting all that polluted residue run into the ground just wasn't allowable anymore.
It was an epiphany for DeChard, a native of Mahwah, N.J. Always a tinkerer, he started experimenting with different surfaces capable of trapping the waste. It took awhile, but by 1998 this insurance salesman's son had a patent on a novel three-layer mat design.
Now, tougher federal clean water law enforcement and rising concerns over bioterrorism are raising interest in his products, as well as the company that makes them, Geomat. Expectations are so high for 41-year-old DeChard and his fellow investors that the business is moving from his 1,000-square-foot office off Lazy Lane in Carrollwood to 4,000 square feet off Benjamin Road in Town 'N County.
"It's taking off faster than we thought," said DeChard, a Citrus Park husband and father who, in his jeans and rolled-up sleeves, still fits the picture of the backyard inventor. "The wind's behind me now."
The mat is topped by a nonslip surface with small holes allowing water to drain into a raised pool. The set-up keeps workers above ground while the contaminated water is contained and pumped away or recycled.
Clients come from a variety of places, such as car washes and airports. But the buzz over one of Geomat's newest products, a portable shower, underscores the potential market for biowaste products.
Emergency responders used to stand in a simple pool while they undressed and washed down. DeChard's system, which he designed to be assembled with a common allen wrench, has its own shower head and keeps all the waste in one place.
During the recent cleanup of the American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton, site of the first-known anthrax breakout in the United States, the FBI-hired contractor used the showers and praised their performance. DeChard is working on a multishower version that would accelerate cleanup operations.
The new office will have 140 employees, including two salesmen and a seven-person marketing team that will target three business areas: emergency response, auto care and other industries that have to meet federal pollution guidelines for wastewater.
The calls are coming in from everywhere.
"We are national now," he said.
-- Josh Zimmer can be reached at 269-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org .
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