Hastings has built more than 9,000 homes in Rutherford County over the past 30 years. He also served on Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation’s Conservation Commission for 8 years. And he combined this experience and a concern for the environment to develop a revolutionary product for the construction industry.
“Even though I’m a builder, I believe in saving the ecology around you. I was raised as a country boy and understand that,” Hastings said.
His revolutionary product is the Erosion Eel, manufactured by his company Friendly Environment of Murfreesboro and Shelbyville.
The Erosion Eel is a fabric tube filled with rubber and/or wood chips. The Eel is used at construction sites to prevent eroded soils from entering the water system by filtering soil as water passes through it.
The implications aren’t local or even national, but worldwide. Hastings is working to use the Eel in developing countries to create drinkable water.
“We are attempting to develop a low tech, inexpensive system to filter and disinfect surface and/or ground waters contaminated with harmful bacteria,” Wolf said. “The focus is to develop this for Third World countries in desperate need of clean drinking water.”
Friendly Environment and Hastings developed a simple, fast, economical way to clean water with the Erosion Eel.
According to a 2000 Environmental Protection Agency study, 40 percent of the nation’s waterways do not meet quality standards.
Moreover, it found “storm water runoff from construction sites are also significant contributors to water quality problems.” EPA also found erosion from construction sites is 10 to 20 times greater than from farms and 1,000 to 2,000 times greater than forests.
So, EPA phased in strict standards for storm water management for both cities and construction sites in 1990 and 2000, which partly inspired Hastings’ hard work.
Hastings looks at his efforts as a way to improve the environment and help builders meet EPA standards at the same time.
“The system is very effective compared to other traditional erosion controls,” said Gary Gaskin, Mt. Juliet storm water compliance coordinator.
The Erosion Eel can also be used as a check dam, a barrier to slow water in a ditch or on open ground, or to filter water before it flows into a watershed.
“The things that we were doing were very antiquated and we needed somebody to step forth and try to come up with some ideas. So, I put my thinking hat on,” Hastings said.
So, he went to his barn and started experimenting with different materials that would be versatile, easy to use and meet the Clean Water Act standards for storm water management.
He came up with the Erosion Eel and he found used tires were the best material to use to make them.
“There’s a lot of them and we need to get rid of them,” Hastings said about recycling tires. “There’s not much you can do with them.”
Well, there’s a new use thanks to his efforts. And tires aren’t the only recycled material in the Erosion Eel. The woodchips come from log home production from around Cookeville.
In fact the entire Eel is made from recycled materials.
“I decided I would try to come up with some ideas that would help, hopefully, future generations,” Hastings said. “And take some of the by-products that … are polluting the earth … and take some of those products and use them in the a positive manner.”
Hastings came up some ideas, indeed, and passed them along to the employees of Friendly Environment who made them reality.
Prior to the Erosion Eel, the only way to control erosion and filter eroded soils from storm water was silt fence or sand bags.
Silt fence is a temporary barrier made of synthetic fabric and supported by wooden or metal stakes. In short, it’s a fence that slows water flow so that soils will settle out.
“It doesn’t work.” Hastings said is the main problem with silt fence.
When tested against silt fence the Eel filtered more water and settled out more soil in a shorter period of time.
It improves the clarity of water by 80-95 percent, depending on water flow, but silt fence only improves clarity by 50-60 percent.
“There are direct, very positive implications for improving storm water quality by reducing suspended solids (suspended soil particle) concentrations,” said Kevin Wolfe with Civil & Environmental Consultants in Franklin.
These soil particles are a major component in groundwater pollution, Wolf said.
Not only do soils directly pollute waterways, they also carry secondary pollutants like bacteria, metals and chemicals, Wolf said. By reducing soil particles in run-off, the amount of secondary pollutants is also reduced.
Also, more manpower is needed to install silt fence because a trench must be dug and the stakes pounded in. Two people, however, can install the Eel in less than 10 minutes, according to tests by Virginia’s Department of Transportation (VDOT).
“The eel is easier to handle (than silt fence or sand bags),” Gaskin explained. “Two men, sometimes even one man, can maneuver them into place with their handles.”
“I also recommend them because of cost,” said Lewis Manhart, VDOT environmental monitor. “There should be a considerable cost saving in some situations over our current practices. They are reusable and can be moved from one site to another or from project to project.”
Manhart recommended VDOT begin using Eels on its construction projects as check dams and gutter protection. Including Virginia and select TDOT projects, a total of 30 states have approved the Erosion Eel for use on construction sites. The company has also seen interest from as far away as Australia.
Manhart’s recommendation came mainly from the Eel’s impact on controlling water flow and allowing sediments to settle out of storm water.
“My inspections indicated that the (Erosion) Eel was working better than most of the silt fence or other common BMPs (best management systems),” such as sand bags, Gaskin said. So, he recommended Mt. Juliet use them on a case-by-case basis.
“Using the Eel kind of falls into the category of, ‘well, duh…’” Gaskin said. “It works for you, it works for me, and it works for the environment.”
Hastings knows the impact of water pollution from erosion on the local environment, so his company’s working to develop more environmentally friendly products.
The company has acquired four patents in last six months and is working on worldwide patent for the Erosion Eel.
Friendly Environment is opening a new research center soon “to do research and development on the part of the environment and using recycling goods to help clean the environment up,” Hastings said.
One product already in production is called FlocMat. It’s a polymer-impregnated jute used as an erosion barrier.
“The key to stopping erosion is vegetation,” Hastings said. And FlocMat increases vegetation by raising the settlement rate of soils in runoff and providing a barrier through which vegetation can grow.
“By increasing the settlement rate, we remove more suspended solids from the water, producing clean water from construction sites,” Wolf said.
The company is also working on a new catch basin inlet filter for construction sites that is reusable and simple to maintain.
Hastings said it also plans to address air quality issues from feedlots, in particular air quality on swine and chicken farms.
“I think a lot of neighbors would be happy,” he said.
In the meantime, Friendly Environment continues to be an entirely homegrown operation with all research and development done in Rutherford and Bedford counties and manufactured with materials produced in the U.S.
Michelle Willard can be contacted at 869-0816 or firstname.lastname@example.org.