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Queens Chronicles July 8, 2002

The Star Ledger








New invention helps city resolve sticky issue

GumBusters removes mess from Perth Amboy sidewalks

BY AMISHA PADNANI   -Star-Ledger Staff

They were big. They were black. And they were everywhere.

Splotches of discarded chewing gum dotted the sidewalks of Perth Amboy's downtown last week when Mayor Joseph Vas introduced his latest initiative: the GumBusters.

"This is a new invention and we jumped on it pretty quick," Vas said. For the record, he is not a gum chewer.

"Gum has been a problem since the beginning of time," he said.

GumBusters GumCart machines, which resemble canister vacuum cleaners, use a combination of environmentally safe chemicals, water, and steam to remove the black blobs of gum.

The city purchased two of them, to rid the stains that were defacing recently installed, decorative brick pavers.

"Even though gum is repulsive on any surface, it really was distracting," said Robert McCoy, chief administrator of the city's Urban Enterprise Zone.

At first, McCoy said, officials explored several other gum-removal applications but always found a problem, such as unsafe chemicals or sprays that would splash onto facades of surrounding businesses. When they found the GumBusters, however, McCoy said they were immediately amazed.

"We were thrilled by the fact that it's localized, environmentally safe, and in three to five seconds the gum was removed with no trace remaining," he said.

According to Anthony Mulé, Vice President of New York, and New Jersey-based GumBusters, the GumBusters system is 100 percent effective in removing all shapes and sizes of gum with a simple method. The gum is heated with 300-degree dry steam which is then mixed with a cleaning agent. With a little pressure, a small brush at the end of the cleaning hose will remove the stain. The best part, he said, is that the process can be done without closing off streets or disrupting daily activity.

The money for the machines came from a grant from the Business Improvement District. Vas emphasized that the project is part of his vision to beautify the streets of Perth Amboy in hopes that it will "greatly improve our downtown district and help to increase shopping in the area."

He said $13 million has already been spent toward improvements with money from the urban enterprise zone, a state program in which certain sections of town are designated by the state to charge only half the 7 percent sales tax on retail purchases. Half of the money collected is then funneled back into the community to make general improvements to the appearance of those areas.

The city also received a grant to hire four college students who are home for the summer to operate the machines. Each day, they clean about 100 yards of sidewalk.

Matthews Dominguez, one of the workers, said he was excited to clean the streets because he had seen a show on the Discovery Channel featuring the GumBusters and was impressed by the machine's efficiency in removing gum.

"The gum is busted, just as it says," said Dominguez, 21, who is studying pharmacy at Rutgers University. "I thought it was pretty cool. I didn't know they would use it over in Perth Amboy."

McCoy said he has been walking the newly cleaned streets and that it's "incredible."

"It's wonderful to see because you have the merchants coming out of their stores just beaming," he said.







August 24, 2001


Sticky Situation: Who you gonna call when tennis fans gum up the U.S. Open grounds with wads and wads of used (yuck!) chewing gum ? GumBusters, naturally.

It took the crew of Brad Fields, executive director of GumBusters franchise A Limited Sticky Situation, more than 35 hours to rid the U.S. Open plaza of gum left by fans who attended last year's 2-week event.

"There seemed to be a little bit more gum just outside of the garbage cans on the grounds where I guess people missed," Fields said.  "But I've seen worse gum pollution."   










August 8, 2001 -- CLEANING up gum is a sticky business, but somebody has to do it. At the Arthur Ashe Stadium, that somebody is Brad Fields, GumBuster. Since April, when the 31-year-old businessman bought his gum-removal franchise, Fields has been cleaning up - at least in New York and New Jersey.  

"That's a lot of gum," Fields said as he aimed the bristly nozzle of his GumBuster gun at a blackened smudge, sprayed and rubbed.   Seconds later, all that remained on the pavers was a cappuccino-like froth.  


Bubblegum, sugarless, spearmint - to GumBusters they all wind up the same, as sticky blackened spots on the landscape. The only difference is that sometimes when the heat hits the gum, "the smell wafts up, and you can tell if it's cinnamon, grape or strawberry," Fields said.


Fields and his helper, 21-year-old Mikulas Viklocky, are thrilled to be busting gum at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, which is sprucing up for the U.S. Open on Aug. 25. It beats saying you're busting gum on 39th Street," said Fields, who has degummed office buildings, sidewalks, movie theaters and Harlem, during Bill Clinton's big reception. Lots of gum there. 


"We did the Magic Johnson Theaters and it was everywhere," Fields said. "On the arm rests, the walls." Once the pavers at the Arthur Ashe Stadium's entry are done, he said, the GumBusters will move into the stadium and hit the seats. Fields had his weirdest gum-busting experience on Seventh Avenue, where a woman came up and asked him to get the gum off her new shoes. Fields refused. We were busy," he explained. "Plus, I didn't know what it would do to her Manolo Blahniks." 




GumBusters To Save Soles From A Sticky Situation

or the sake of the reader, this article will not begin with  “Who ya gonna call?” or some other Ghostbusters parody. But just like those fictional poltergeist  pulverizers, Gumbusters of New York provides a service that raises the quality of life for thousands of people. With their equipment aimed at the sticky offender, Brad Fields and his 10- person crew release a scorching 300- degree blast of steam and a bit of air pressure to send the troublesome chicle to gum heaven. Fields is the executive director of A Limited Sticky Situation, a Long Island City-based franchise of Gumbusters, which boasts a record for assisting local businesses such as restaurants and movie houses in vanquishing their gum pollution problems. Despite the fact that the company began its operations, just this April, the list of happy customers is extensive and includes a number of McDonald’s franchises, Clearview Cinemas, Jacoby Hospital and others. 


“Once people see how  easy and effective our method is, they are sold immediately,” Fields said. The rumors about the Gumbusters’ efficiency apparently have reached the United States Tennis Association, which this year summoned Gumbusters to clean up the  world’s largest tennis stadium in time for the U.S. Open. “It’s an honor to be a part of preparing the stadium for the U.S. Open. This will be my biggest project yet and I am ready for it,” Fields said.

Old gum beware! Brad Fields and his trusty GumCart are ready to rid the streets of insightly dark spots. Gumbusters are hard at work at their new site - Arthur Ashe Stadium 

Gumbusters of New York was born when Fields observed the effect of the GumCart on the rubber surfaces of New York City buses during the presentation by the company to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “We were so impressed that we decided to buy franchise rights to Gumbusters right there,” Fields recalled. “All it took was five minutes of the presentation.” The most interesting part about Gumbusters may be how they get rid of the gum, especially after it has had several years to become a dirty black spot on the pavement. 

The GumCart -- that is, the machine used to de-gum a small area-- produces high-temperature steam, with low air pressure added to a non-toxic chemical cleaning agent, melting and dissolving the gum. The steam is 98 percent air, allowing the GumCart to only use about four to eight gallons of water a day. To finish the job, the operator

wipes the surface with a small brush at the end of the cleaning hose, an attachment similar to that of a vacuum cleaner.  The entire process only takes a few seconds. According to Fields, the GumCart is a self-contained, environmentally

clean unit that is extremely simple to maintain and rarely breaks down. In addition, it is so easy to use, the people he hires need no previous janitorial or any other sanitation experience. “The concept of it is very simple,” Fields said. “A newcomer can be out of there working on the first day on the job.” Fields dreams to someday “gumbust” Yankee Stadium and the New York Public Library. “No matter how many trash cans the City pro-vides, gum will always mysteriously appear wherever you go, and until that ends, I will do my part by helping clean up New York, one piece at a time,” Fields said. Fields and his crew continues to work in the five boroughs, fighting the good fight for anyone who’s ever sat down in a wad of gum and ruined their pants, grabbed a handrail and gotten a handful of strawberry-flavored blob, or stepped into a glob of the stuff, ruining an otherwise good pair of footwear. Fields did not want to make pre-dictions, but if the business’ success holds, he is planning to push subdivisions into New Jersey, Westchester and even farther upstate.



Something Gumming Up The Works?

 Who Ya Gonna Call?
by David Simon, Assistant Editor











Brad Fields using the gumbuster to clean house at Arthur Ashe Stadium.
   The small, sticky black spots that dot New York City sidewalks are not errant drops of tar. Nor are they patterns imbedded within the cement for aesthetic purposes.
   The black and sometimes red or green spots are pieces of gum. After a good chew, some careless person simply spit out a piece. It was then walked on by tourists, residents, dogs and just about everything else.

Gum is not considered to be the City’s problem, according to Department of Sanitation spokesperson, John Pampalone. “There are no laws for gum removal and the DOS does not have any specific plans to deal with gum,” he said. “They are like cigarette butts in that if it is in front of your property, you should clean it up.”
   Traditionally, people would use high-pressure power washers to remove the gum. But these machines can be loud and with the recent water shortage, using them is not a possibility.
   Brad Fields, the master franchisee in New York for GumBusters, a Dutch Company that specializes in gum removal and colorful logos, may have the answer to the city’s sticky problem. Gum Busters arrived in the United States in 1999.

  City Councilman John Liu, who represents Flushing, thinks that Fields may have the right idea. “Certainly, the gum is extremely unsightly in Flushing and all over Queens,” he said. “I am looking into new technology to remove the gum and I’d definitely be interested in what this company had to offer.”
   Fields, who opened his franchise at 53-01 Vernon Boulevard in Long Island City last June, has gum-busted for the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt Museum on the Upper East Side, the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem and Arthur Ashe Stadium in Flushing.
   GumBusters also has an ongoing project with Penn Station to remove gum from the main terminal in midtown Manhattan. They will be de-gumming Carnegie Hall at the end of the summer.
   Using a simple machine that mixes high-powered steam with a special environmentally-friendly cleaning solution, gum that was once a solid disc is emulsified and turned into a brownish goop that can be easily mopped up.
   Cleaning up the neighborhood with a high-powered water blaster is not a new concept. The Greater Ridgewood Restoration Corporation has been doing to graffiti for years what Fields is doing to gum.
   But is that organization concerned with gum? Not according to Peggy O’Kane, community liaison specialist for the group. “There are heaps of other things that bother me,” she said. “Gum doesn’t exactly move me too much.”
   Fields doesn’t agree. “If you walk down the street, there are literally millions and millions of pieces of gum,” he said.
   Fields’ business operates on several levels. His crew can be hired directly to do a cleaning job, they sub-franchise their name and equipment to another GumBuster or they can rent the equipment for individuals to use.
   The cost for gumbusting varies depending on the concentration of gum in a given area, but the average is 35 cents a square foot with most jobs being completed within a day or two.
   “It’s a simple concept for a serious social problem, Fields said.”
   For more information, call 866-U-GOT-GUM or check the Web at

LIC Company Offers Solution to Chewing Gum On NYC Sidewalks
New York Times

It's not exactly an urban mystery. More a case of mass denial, or a lack of anthropological curiosity. Whatever the reason, only some New Yorkers, including, now, the mayor, know that the black blobs stuck to pavements around the city are not part of the concrete mix, not stray bits of asphalt, not hardened drips of roofing tar. No, the splotches, some amoeba-shaped and some round as half dollars, are pieces of discarded chewing gum.

"Those little black dots on the sidewalk," Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called them in November during his regular radio program, lamenting their ubiquity and confiding that he had always wondered what they were.

"That's gum," he told his listeners. Twice, as if it were hard to believe.

The mayor urged property owners to turn this discovery into action. "Hire a company to come and clean your sidewalk," he said.

As it turns out, the available arsenal to battle the gum now includes a new weapon: a solvent that vaporizes the splotches. Gumbusters of New York, the company that deploys the mixture, has served about 300 clients, including the Statue of Liberty, since its founding three years ago. Perhaps it's high time for all this attention, because there is evidence that New York's hefty new cigarette tax may be producing a city of even more gum chewers - and potential gum litterers.

True, a smear on the sidewalk is not crime in the streets. It's not an act of terrorism. It's not a battered school system, a rising homeless population, a buffeted economy or the specter of shrunken city services.

But hardened gum underfoot is undeniably an urban hallmark. And of course, the bigger and denser the city, the more the gum, which may make New York the gum splotch capital of the world.

Like artifacts at a dig site, these splotches can be found where they were abandoned. Many land outside restaurants, stores, subway stations, subway cars and anyplace people have been standing in line. Others, in a sign of good intentions, pile up near refuse baskets on street corners.

Who knows? Among the millions of gum blobs on New York's 12,500 miles of pavement may be a fragment from the era of Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia, who ran a campaign to reform gum litterers in 1939. "Mayor's Gum Drive Off to Fast Start - Two Companies and a Flood of Volunteers Join Up," read a headline in this newspaper at the time.

"It's one of those things that has become a fact of city life," said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Business Improvement District. "I think, on a core level, most people are used to it."

Historically speaking, New York may deserve all its abandoned gum. In an odd tale that touches on the Alamo by way of Staten Island, it was here, in the late 19th century, that the world's first chewing gum factory was built. But if the city gave birth to modern chewing gum, it once again has a few forces, not least a mayor, who want to take it off the streets.

How New York Got Its Spots

The chewing gum industry got its start in New York because chicle, a rubbery substance produced by the tropical sapodilla tree, found its way to Staten Island. It was carried here, as a chew, by General Santa Anna, the Mexican dictator who prevailed at the battle of the Alamo in 1836. Santa Anna came to Staten Island as an exile, after he was defeated by Sam Houston and after Texas became a state. There he met Thomas Adams, a local inventor.

In 1869, Adams tried, unsuccessfully, to make tires from Santa Anna's stash of chicle, then gave it a chew himself and liked it better than the paraffin-wax or spruce-resin chewing plugs that New Yorkers were buying from pharmacists at the time. (Today's gums are made mostly with a synthetic-polymer gum base.) By 1876, according to The Encyclopedia of New York City, the inventor had opened Adams Sons & Company on Vesey Street in Lower Manhattan, the first gum factory. Its packages featured a drawing of City Hall and the slogan "Adams' New York Chewing Gum, Snapping and Stretching."

The Adams company, long a part of Pfizer and now slated to be sold to Cadbury-Schweppes, dominated the gum business that grew up in the early 20th century, making Chiclets, Tutti Frutti gumballs and other brands. Gum spread throughout America, then throughout Europe, as G.I.'s in both world wars enjoyed and distributed the gum supplied in their rations.

Gum also spread all over the sidewalks of New York. In a 1939 New York Times article headlined "Bogged in Chewing Gum," a hotel executive complained that "the city of New York may become totally enveloped in refuse chewing gum in the course of time."

That same year, Mayor La Guardia embarked on his public education campaign against gum litterers. He pressured gum companies to print warnings on their wrappers about proper gum disposal and announced a search for a "catchy" advertising slogan for a cleanup. His final choice? "Don't Gum Up the Works." As part of the campaign, "some 20,000 wads were scraped from one spot on Times Square alone," wrote Robert Hendrickson, author of "The Great American Chewing Gum Book" (Stein & Day, 1976).

So it continued in New York: a lot of gum spit out, a little gum removed. And some gum immortalized. In 1972, a self-defined "disposable artist" named Les Levine who lived on Mott Street cast about 30 pieces of freshly chewed gum in gold. The resulting works, called "Solid Gold Chewing Gum," were shown at the Fischbach Gallery in Manhattan; the sculptures are a comment about art, "about the making process," Mr. Levine said in a recent interview.

The Bull's-Eye Stratagem

These days, discarded gum is practically part of the city's infrastructure. "When you think about doing something special, a nicer type of sidewalk or something," said Mr. Tompkins of the Times Square BID, "you have to consider the gum issue."

Although gum spots are found throughout the city, the problem is understandably worse in more congested areas. The Grand Central Partnership, another large business improvement district, struggles daily against the litter in its gum-heavy neighborhood. "It's a disgusting sight," said Alfred C. Cerullo III, president of the partnership.

And it may be worse below street level. For a time in the 90's, the Transit Authority set up targets at selected gum-encrusted stations and invited passengers to hurl their gum at bull's-eyes instead of dropping it on the ground. The program was discontinued because it was not cost-effective.

Many subway riders are inured to the splotches. "It's so dirty, I just block it out," said Eneas Soares, a Hunter College student, pointing to the heavy gum deposits along the downtown subway platform at 96th Street and Broadway.

That's assuming they know it's gum in the first place. "It's too much to be chewing gum," said Lenora Jones, a retired customer service representative, who sat nearby eyeing an unbroken line of splotches along the platform's edge.

Too much, indeed. Americans chew about $2.8 billion worth of gum every year, according to a report by Packaged Facts, a market research company. Using Wrigley's 25-cent pack as a measure, that adds up to about 56 billion pieces annually. And there's no reason to think that New Yorkers chew less than their share. "As far as I can tell, gum consumption is pretty uniform across the United States," said Jim Echeandia, a Texas-based confectionery consultant.

The city's recently increased cigarette tax, which raised the price of a pack to about $7.50, may mean that New Yorkers will chew even more as they try to reduce their smoking or quit. At the United Grocery at 94th Street and Broadway, Anna Khan, whose family owns the store, now orders six boxes of gum a week instead of the two boxes she ordered before the tax took effect on July 1. "One customer, he used to buy two packs of cigarettes a day," she said. "Since the price went up, he buys five to six packs of gum a day instead."

New Yorkers - unlike, say, the residents of Switzerland - are not famous for their neatness. But it is unclear why depositing gum on the ground became acceptable, especially given that it is officially prohibited as littering or spitting under city regulations.

"It would be a good graduate student project," said Mr. Tompkins of the Times Square BID, laughing. " 'The Rupturing of the Social Contract With Respect to Gum Disposal.' "

The reduction of subway graffiti got a big boost from new technology that made it easier to clean the trains. For their part, gum makers are trying to devise a gum that does not adhere to pavements.

"There are a number of encouraging developments, but no new products ready for consumer testing," said Amy Chezem, a spokeswoman for the National Association of Chewing Gum Manufacturers. The companies also say they have made progress toward a gum base that breaks down over time, but, she added, "The prospect is still a way off."

Until then, gum removal will remain a constant struggle. Sanitation crews for the Grand Central Partnership routinely remove gum from news boxes and phone booths in eastern Midtown. "They scrape it, they use solutions," Mr. Cerullo said. "Every day, seven days a week. It's an ongoing battle." Periodically, he also hires power washers to remove gum stuck to the sidewalk.

At Grand Central Terminal, three "degummers" - employees wielding broom handles outfitted with razor-sharp blades - patrol the concourse every night at 1 a.m. as part of the general cleanup. The floor, made of Tennessee marble, resists nicking "and allows the gum to come up," said Dan Brucker, a spokesman for Metro-North Railroad, which operates Grand Central.

But perhaps the organization taking the most focused aim at the problem is a small Queens company called, appropriately, Gumbusters, headed by Brad Fields, a trim 32-year-old entrepreneur with a low-key manner and high aspirations.

So far Gumbusters of New York, one of the American franchisees of a Dutch company, has vaporized gum spots from 500,000 square feet of the city, Mr. Fields said. But that, he knows, is just a tiny clearing here in the petrified-gum forest, and the underbrush can grow back fast. The new McDonald's at 42nd Street hired Gumbusters last September, and needed it to return just weeks later.

The nature of his work has turned Mr. Fields into something of a gum anthropologist. "I walk with my head down now, like most New Yorkers, but I do it for business knowledge," he said. He can explain why some wads are huge ("Kids chew four pieces at a time"), why some are just larger than average (probably bubble gum), why some have tails (someone stepped on them when they were fresh, pulling them along the street before they hardened), and how long it takes for a pink, white or green confection to become a grimy stain that stubbornly stays put ("I'd give it about 24 hours").

Gumbusters has cleaned gum from the sidewalks of Carnegie Hall, the sidewalks of the Magic Johnson Theater in Harlem and Arthur Ashe Stadium. (Pavement cleaning is the duty of property owners, not the Department of Sanitation.) In November, Mr. Fields degummed 100 square feet of pavement in City Hall Park to demonstrate his system to the Parks Department.

Bill Tai, who as chief of the department's Manhattan operations branch arranged for the display, was noncommittal about the chance for any Parks Department business. "I don't know what will come of it," he said. "We don't have a lot of extra money in our budget."

Around the same time, Mr. Fields demonstrated his company's steam-and-solvent system at the Gumbusters headquarters in Long Island City. With two of the company's five employees, he climbed into a Gumbusters truck painted with smiley gobs of colorful gum. He hopped out at a nearby corner and hooked up a small, portable "gumcart" to a surprisingly quiet generator. "No point in trading gum pollution for noise pollution," he said.

Then the three men, using a long brush attachment, handily evaporated 25 black blobs from the pavement before moving to another spot. "Probably Juicy Fruit," Mr. Fields said, as one splotch liquefied and dribbled away. "We can smell the gum sometimes. The flavor wafts up."

The low-pressure system, Mr. Fields added, uses less water than high-pressure power-washing, which must be done at night when pedestrians are absent.

His prices depend upon gum density, but customers generally pay 35 cents a square foot plus $18 a gallon for the patented solution. His clients can buy their own gumcart from the company for $5,900, as managers for Pennsylvania Station and the Statue of Liberty have done.