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September 27, 2012

Small businesses prevent pollution, save money

  • Under a state program, local source control specialists have been showing businesses how to properly manage, store and dispose of hazardous materials.
    Department of Ecology


    What does preventing pollution have to do with saving money? Quite a bit, according to the businesses in Washington that have done both.

    Guiding businesses through the process of preventing pollution on their property is the job of 37 “local source control specialists” working in parts of the state.

    From April 2008 through early this summer, the specialists conducted more than 10,000 visits to businesses from Pierce to Whatcom counties and in Spokane to help them properly manage, store and dispose of hazardous materials so they don’t end up in our air, water and soil.

    Photo courtesy of the Department of Ecology [enlarge]
    A local source control specialist helped a Sumas trucking company find better ways of handling and storing these drums of waste materials.

    Gov. Chris Gregoire and the 2007 Legislature recognized that the health of small businesses is critical to the overall economy in Washington, and that their viability is directly tied to a clean environment. Toward that end, the Legislature provided about $2.3 million in the 2007-09 biennium to make sure small businesses had the help they needed to do the right thing.

    Because of the value of the program, state funding has continued, augmented by federal funds.

    In January 2008, the state Department of Ecology entered into 14 partnership contracts to use existing expertise in local health agencies, cities and public utility districts to help small business owners prevent pollution and add a little extra to the bottom line. That number has grown to 25 partnerships.

    The technical assistance site visits are voluntary and there is no charge to the business.

    Small businesses typically have limited access to hazardous waste handling and disposal expertise. That’s where the local control specialists step in, helping businesses find ways to reduce the use of hazardous materials, reuse what they can, dispose of waste properly, and in some cases eliminate a contaminant from the business process altogether.

    “Some businesses are wary when we first arrive,” said Michael Jeffers, a local source control specialist from Seattle Public Utilities. “When they hear that our inspection is focused on preventing pollution sources that affect local waters and Puget Sound we hear few complaints. Our visits help them deal with their pollution prevention issues, stay in compliance and protect our water.”

    This one-to-one approach is expected to improve both our state’s urban water quality and each business’s bottom line through savings realized from reducing toxic chemicals used and from producing less dangerous waste. This way they avoid related disposal and cleanup costs.

    Take one Pierce County golf course, for example. Because of source control visits, the golf course purchased two spill kits and several plastic tubs to hold containers of pesticides so they wouldn’t leak or spill on the ground. The golf course managers wrote a plan in case a spill did occur, and put gasoline cans into safer cabinets for flammables — all activities that protect the environment and prevent potential cleanup expenses.

    Over in Kitsap County, source control specialists helped six dental offices and two veterinary hospitals adopt practices to properly dispose of hazardous waste such as spent X-ray fixer, lead foil packets, dental amalgam, vacuum pump filters, expired pharmaceuticals and fluorescent tubes.

    Another team of source control specialists with Seattle Public Utilities worked with a Seattle-area mall to correct a problem in its stormwater system.

    “With a sensitive creek 100 feet away, our team worked with the mall management to stop the release of many gallons of trash compactor ooze mixed with rain water that was going to the creek untreated,” said Bri Silbaugh, a source control specialist with Seattle Public Utilities.

    Once aware of this problem, the property owner had the stormwater detention systems cleaned to prevent future pollution from going to the creek. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of contaminated stormwater has been removed from the system and will no longer go to the creek.

    “It’s widely recognized that the state’s economy depends on economically strong small businesses, and that small businesses depend on a clean, pollution-free environment to be successful,” said K. Seiler, who manages Ecology’s Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction Program.

    “Our assistance often saves them time and money, which are scarce resources for small businesses,” Seiler said.

    Jani Gilbert is communications manager for the Department of Ecology’s Eastern Regional Office.

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