Edgefield Native Gets National Press
for Dirt Road–Improving Product

A quirky business venture that sprang from the mind of Edgefield native Thomas Settles received a hefty amount of press last month, making him and his “invention” – an enzyme that he says will toughen dirt roads and help them stand up to rain – rank among the ten most viewed business news articles last week on Yahoo’s popular online search engine.

The story of Settles’s dirt road–saving enzyme was picked up by the Associated Press, and newspapers, Web sites, and bloggers across the country carried the article.

Settles was raised in Edgefield on a dirt road that the AP article said was “so crummy it washed out after a heavy rain and [Settles] sometimes couldn’t get to school.”

Now 53 years old and living in Atlanta, Settles has bought the rights to an enzyme called PZ-22X that he says will be the answer to the woes of communities that can’t afford to pave dirt roads. He calls it “Pave-Zyme,” and it is currently being tested on dirt roads across the South. “I did not actually create the enzyme,” he said in an interview Tuesday from his home in Atlanta, “but I have the exclusive rights to market it in the United States and in the Caribbean.”

Settles, who is the CEO and president of Omega Paving and Environmental Management Group, said that the enzyme is “an organic, environmentally friendly liquid enzyme formula that bonds soil and increases compaction, making roads impervious to water and increasing their load-bearing capacity.”

The product, he says, was proven effective in Jamaica following the 2002 torrential storms that devastated Jamaica’s road infrastructure.

It will doubly benefit dirt road dwellers, he adds, in that it will improve health (by reducing dust) and will “narrow the education gap between the rich and poor” because schoolchildren won’t have trouble getting to school when the rains hit the dirt roads.

Settles knows about missing school because of dirt roads. He grew up on a dirt road off of Highway 378 in Edgefield and remembers many a day when his road was “washed out” because of the rain. The son of Jesse and Kattie Settles, Thomas was one of five siblings, many of whom still live in the area. There were members of Liberty Springs Church.

Thomas is now married with three children – T. Colin Settles, a Morehouse graduate and minister, and identical twin daughters Ashley and Allison, who are both at Auburn University now.

He often returns to Edgefield. In fact, he was in town this past weekend for the 35th reunion of his class at W.E. Parker. Following his schooling here, Settles received his undergraduate degree from Talladega College and later completed graduate work at Florida State University and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He went on to work with various sales, community and business development agencies. Most recently, he launched his paving company, and sees it as something that will greatly impact people in rural areas across the nation.
His Pave-Zyme product is currently being tested in several locations across the South, including Aberdeen, Mississippi, and Macon County, Alabama. It is applied by mixing it with water and spraying it directly onto the dirt road.

Would this product ever be used in Edgefield County? We put the question to Guy Mueller, assistant director of the county’s building and planning department (which handles road maintenance).

“If it stops erosion and is as cost-effective as he says it is, then sure, we’d definitely look into it,” he said. “Anything that would be a cost-saver for dirt roads would be great.” Dirt roads require significantly more maintenance than paved roads, he said. The more traffic and rain they get, the worse they become.
Mueller added, “No one has called our office yet to offer a demonstration of the product.” But even if Settles did propose “Pave-Zyme” to county officials, it wouldn’t be of any use for the “crummy” dirt road that he grew up on; it was paved more than a decade ago.