Chrisann Karches- Controlling Hazards On A Daily Basis
PHOTO: AMY HASKELL
By Teya Vitu
Southwest Hazard Control
Southwest Hazard Control has a
modest presence in northwest Tucson with 68 employees at its office and
warehouse. Big-name clients and annual revenue of $17 million, however,
tell you that there’s more than meets
“We’re bidding an asbestos removal
project in Northern California at Stanford University,” said Chrisann Karches, SHC president. Her company previously cleared asbestos from Stanford’s
Wilbur Hall and William F. Durand
Karches has run the family-owned
firm since her father, Gerald Karches,
retired in 1999 after quadruple bypass
surgery. SHC was established as a hazardous materials remediation company
in 1982, and today is the longest operating hazardous material abatement company in
Other major projects completed by SHC include asbestos removal from a courthouse in San Francisco and
a nearly four-year asbestos
abatement project at the former San Manuel BHP Copper smelter in Pinal County.
Currently, SHC is bidding on
contracts with the University
of Arizona, Tucson Unified
School District and Pima
Over the years, Southwest
Hazard Control opened mostly autonomous operations in Phoenix, Albuquerque, San Leandro, Calif.; a small operation in Sparks, Nev., and its newest
hazard removal facility in Las Cruces,
N.M., that opened in April 2012.
“Honestly, we had an opportunity
and we took it,” Chrisann Karches
said. “You have a stronger company
if you have a bigger foundation. I did
have a business mentor – his message
was growth, growth, growth. He really
helped me grow the business in a sustainable way.”
Asbestos removal and associated demolition makes up 70 percent of the
revenue for the $17 million company
– but SHC also has strong niches in
lead paint and mold removal, taking
out underground fuel storage tanks and
numerous other environmental remediation and hazardous material abatement. SHC conducts about 1,300 to
1,500 remediation jobs per year.
Asbestos removal is common and is
required to be removed before a building gets demolished or renovated. But
what does the work entail?
“You have to contain and isolate the
entire work area with plastic and air
filtration before you begin any work –
and you have to continually wet the asbestos,” which is found in floor tile, drywall, sprayed-on acoustical material on
ceilings and many other forms, Karches said. “We basically scrape it off the
ceiling, use blades to pull up floor tiles,
then bag the material in leak-tight containers. We take it to an approved landfill, where it has to be buried within 24
How about cleaning up lead and
mold? Lead abatement nearly always
involves paint removal. Mold stems
Honestly, we had
and we took it.
You have a stronger
company if you have
a bigger foundation.
mental Protection Agency launched an
asbestos technical assistance program,
followed in 1982 by the Asbestos-Containing Materials in Schools Rule, and
in 1986 by the federal Asbestos Hazard
Emergency Response Act.
All these regulations led Gerald
Karches to start Southwest Hazard
Control in 1982 with initial work for
the Navajo Nation to analyze schools
for asbestos contamination.
Karches came to her dad’s newly
established Southwest Hazard Control
that same year as a recent UA graduate with a degree in agriculture and
thoughts of becoming a nutritionist.
Instead, Gerald Karches said, he
asked his eldest daughter to start by doing secretarial work. “Then she started
keeping track of the financing,”
he said. “Then she learned how
to use the microscope to identify
asbestos in samples of building
materials. She was always a very
In 1985, SHC evolved into
an asbestos abatement firm.
SHC added hazardous materials abatement in 1986 and lead
abatement work in 1991. Expansions soon came into play.
SHC established a Phoenix office in 1986 followed by the Albuquerque branch in 1987. In
1991, the company landed the
Sandia National Laboratory contract – which it held for 20 years.
A contract with San Leandro followed
in 1992 to serve the San Francisco Bay
“We were thinking outside the box all
the time,” Chrisann Karches said. “We
were learning. We made mistakes. But
we never made the same mistake again.
Thinking outside the box works best.”
Gerald Karches said he had no problem turning the company over to his
daughter as the 20th century drew to a
close. “She had had experience across
the board. She’s a take-charge person.
She also has good people skills,” he
Chrisann Karches presides over all
the offices – yet she allows local managers to run the show to fit the niche
market that they are in. SHC hires only
locals in each community. “We do have
protocols and standardization of work
practices, and sound policies and procedures – but I do not micro manage
each office,” she said.
continued on page 148 >>>
– Chrisann Karches
President, Southwest Hazard Control
from water leaks, floods or poor maintenance that allows moisture and water
“What we use for lead abatement depends on the situation. We use chemical
strippers for paint and gentle removal
techniques when dealing with historical buildings. It takes a lot of time and
patience – so we do not damage the
underlying wood,” Karches said. “If
it’s something you don’t have to be as
careful with, another method is a blasting machine equipped with a HEPA filter that captures the dust at the source.
Mold remediation can range from
simple cleaning using a 10-percent solution of bleach and water to complete
removal of moldy materials.”
Long before Chrisann Karches
stepped to the forefront, her father
had a 22-year career at the National
Institute for Occupational Safety and
Health in Cincinnati and Boston, before he joined the UA faculty in the
late 1970s. In 1979, the U.S. Environ-
Spring 2014 > > > BizTucson 147
continued from page 147
During its growth, SHC has had four
homes in Tucson – all near Grant Road
and Interstate 10. Since October 2009,
SHC has owned its property and built
an office and warehouse. “Rob Paulas
Architects did a great job designing
SHC’s new building with a lot of green
touches such as water harvesting,”
One thing she insisted on, and architect Andrew Hesse embraced, was having the office and warehouse detached,
even if by only a few feet.
“It made a center courtyard where
employees could hang out,” Hesse said.
“It was their own little garden. Then
we thought ‘Why not let other people
through here?’ ”
Eleven water harvesting tanks frame
the entryway to the main entrance.
Hesse originally drew in 12 tanks to
close off the courtyard but removed
one to create an entryway.
Inside, you find soothing colors and
abundant daylight from windows and
solar tubes. Karches insisted on wood
doors in the modern setting. A stalactite
and piece of purple onyx are embedded
in lighted wall nooks behind her desk.
“This is a green building,” she said.
“We collect our rainwater. I always tell
people I want to make the world a better place. We all need to do the right
thing with the environment.”
The nutritionist in Karches also influences the workplace environment.
“We always have fresh fruit for our
employees,” she said. “The bananas go
like crazy. People really love the fresh
fruit that we have available. “
SHC employees – 167 across the
Southwest – receive other benefits as
well. Everyone gets paid vacations,
healthcare, 401(k) retirement and paid
holidays. Little touches like giving employees gift cards at Thanksgiving and
Christmas and giving birthday card
signed by everyone are just some of the
small things that employees appreciate.
More than half the Tucson staff has
been with SHC for 18 years. Most others have at least 15 years with the company.
“You have to treat people really well,
so they are willing to invest in a company that is being built for the long term,
and this will benefit the community as
well,” Karches said.
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