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Allergan Founder Herbert Tackles ‘Forever Chemicals’

Gavin S. Herbert has helped build Regenesis into a thriving $50 million business, one that provides a mix of technology-based products and services to large national engineering firms that work on soil and groundwater remediation projects.

The San Clemente-based company makes barriers, coatings and collection systems used near ground level to prevent intrusion of harmful vapors, plus compounds and chemicals that are used further underground for water-purification uses.

Its latest offering, PlumeStop, has the potential to take the firm he founded in 1994 to the next level, the Orange County business icon tells the Business Journal.

“This could be our Botox,” said Herbert of the liquid activated carbon compound designed for groundwater uses.

PlumeStop has been years in the making and is now starting to be used at manufacturing sites, airports, military bases and other locations that need heavy amounts of remediation efforts.

As of early last month, the product has been deployed at 20 sites, with about 120 more projects in the queue, according to Regenesis Chief Executive Scott Wilson.

Contracts for the company involving PlumeStop can run several million dollars apiece.

The company recently bought a 70,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Nashville, Tenn., to help ramp up production of its compounds.

The new facility can boost its production fivefold, Wilson said.

The company hasn’t disclosed the amount of work it has performed in OC—one PlumeStop project is expected to take place soon in nearby Oceanside, officials said—hence its omission from this week’s list of the largest environmental consultants, which ranks firms by local billings (see story, page 21).

Botox Redux?

Herbert, the founding father of OC’s aesthetic, ophthalmic and drugmaking industries, knows well how one product can turn a business from a success to a powerhouse.

As the co-founder of what became Allergan, Herbert built one of Orange County’s first big medical businesses, one initially with a focus on eye care products.

In the early 1990s, he took a chance on a drug called Oculinum, which was initially studied to treat types of vision issues and facial spasms. He wasn’t sure of its appeal,  or likelihood of getting regulatory approvals for its use in any setting, noting Oculinum was based on the botulinum neurotoxin, “the most potent drug in the world.”

Renamed Botox, the drug reportedly brought in about $13 million in sales in 1991.

Shortly thereafter, the drug’s value in aesthetic uses was discovered, followed by myriad other therapeutic uses. Chicago’s AbbVie Inc., which bought Allergan in 2020 and now houses its aesthetics base in Irvine, reported global Botox revenue of $4.6 billion last year, with 52% of sales for therapeutic uses and the remainder cosmetic uses.

Herbert, who turns 90 in the next month, served as Allergan’s CEO from 1961 to 1991, and chairman from 1977 to 1995.

Next-Gen Filter

Regenesis’ business model mirrors his tenure at Allergan in its commitment to research and development efforts, Herbert says.

PlumeStop, for example, is the effort on nearly 10 years of work for the about 110-person firm, including about 30 in Orange County.

Think of the product as a much more sophisticated version of the carbon block used to weed out contaminants in a Brita water filter, says Wilson, who has been with the firm since 1996.

Using milled carbon that has been ground down to the size of a red blood cell, the liquid activated material “consists of a very fine suspension of charged particles which resists clumping and has a water-like viscosity,” the company says.

Injected into the aquifer at contaminated sites that need heavy amounts of remediation, the product traps contaminants and helps them biodegrade in place, while allowing clean, filtered water to pass through.

It can be “applied to inhibit spreading of contaminant plumes, to protect sensitive receptors, or to prevent contaminant migration across property boundaries,” the company’s marketing materials say.

PFAS Product

The product is seen by the company as a cost-effective and highly efficient way to deal with per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, also known as PFAS.

Referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS are manmade compounds that have found their way into source water, a result of their use in industrial applications and products like Scotchgard and firefighting foams.

They are extremely difficult to remove during the drinking water treatment process, and a “growing body of scientific evidence shows that exposure at certain levels to specific PFAS can adversely impact human health,” the EPA notes.

EPA Emphasis

PlumeStop can treat PFAS at about one-fourth the cost of other established clean-up methods—such as high-pressure water treatment systems—according to Wilson.

Those systems “are highly inefficient and not as effective,” he said.

The company is getting a heavy amount of interest in the product of late, thanks to the Biden administration, which last year as part of its Build Back Better Agenda announced plans to invest in EPA efforts to address PFAS mitigation.

The EPA is expected to announce its next steps for the program later this year. 

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Mark Mueller
Mark Mueller
Mark is the Editor-in-Chief of the Orange County Business Journal, one of the premier regional business newspapers in the country. He’s the fifth person to hold the editor’s position in the paper’s long history. He oversees a staff of about 15 people. The OCBJ is considered a must-read for area business executives. The print edition of the paper is the primary source of local news for most of the Business Journal’s subscribers, which includes most of OC’s major corporate and community players. Mark’s been with the paper since 2005, and long served as the real estate reporter for the paper, breaking hundreds of commercial and residential real estate stories. He took on the editor’s position in 2018.
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