• U.S.

DRUGS: Sterling Idea

2 minute read

The urge to diversify has led companies into some of the unlikeliest fields, but last week Manhattan’s Sterling Drug Inc. seemed ready to top them all. The biggest U.S. producer of household drugs (Bayer Aspirin, Phillips’ Milk of Magnesia, Drisdol vitamins, etc.) was going into the sewage-disposal business with a radical new process, developed by Sterling Engineer Frederick J. Zimmermann, which is cheaper and more efficient than current methods. With one pilot plant already set up in Norway, Sterling has contracts to build an $11.9 million disposal plant for the city of Chicago, a second $280,000 plant for Wheeling, W. Va. And it has hopes for many more: surveys show that nearly half the community sewer systems in the U.S. need expanding, repair or complete replacement, to say nothing of the growing problem of industrial waste disposal.

Sterling’s Chicago plant is designed to handle 200 tons of waste solids daily, nearly 25% of the city’s total; it does away with the usual complex of chemical-treatment plants, settling basins and incinerators. Instead, it operates like a nameless power plant: oxidizing agents cause fireless combustion of organic waste right in the sewage water. The combustion not only purifies the water, but also produces steam to operate the plant with enough left over, in some cases, to sell as commercial power. The only residue is an inoffensive and inert ash heavy enough to use as land fill. Sterling estimates that operating cost of the Chicago plant will be $12 to $15 per ton of sludge v. $45 per ton for older methods. Sterling does not expect to make much of a profit on the Chicago plant, but hopes it will prove so successful that other cities will follow. Says Sterling’s Chairman James Hill Jr.: “When people see how well these plants work, we will be turning them out like bags of cereal.”

The new disposal plants should give a healthy boost to a drugmaker whose diversification (Aralen, Novocain, Dr. Lyons Tooth Powder, Molle Shave Cream, Energine lighter and cleaning fluid, textile and printing dyes, etc.) has already carried it far beyond the drug field. As a result, income last year topped $200 million for the first time in Sterling’s 59-year history, with profits of $19 million ($2.42 a share).

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