City officials backed away from their practice of burning hundreds of tons of industrial discards in Spokane’s garbage plant after a 1994 furor over torching Canadian pesticide jugs.
Now, they’re again accepting large quantities of “special wastes” - including more pesticide containers.
In April, the city burned plastic liners from 220 55-gallon steel drums that held the pesticide Di-Syston.
The barrels were triple-rinsed with alcohol to eliminate traces of the pesticide, product distributor Chas. H. Lilly Co. of Portland said in a letter to Damon Taam, Spokane’s solid waste director.
The city’s files detailing the transactions were obtained by The Spokesman-Review under the state Open Records Act.
Torching the pesticide liners didn’t harm plant workers or the public, Taam said Tuesday.
“They’d tested the residue to make sure it wasn’t in there. We were convinced it didn’t pose a health hazard,” he said.
Di-Syston is a poison that can cause central nervous system damage if ingested. But if the drums were triple-rinsed, they’d probably be safe, said Jim Malm of the Washington Department of Ecology.
“If not, they’d qualify as hazardous waste,” Malm said.
The city’s readiness to burn industrial discards - and accept the assurances of their providers that the materials are safe - has been controversial for several years. It troubles local clean air regulators and the state’s leading environmental coalition.
“No one knows what’s really being burned. The plant is operating without the checks and balances” that should come from local clean air cops, said Bonnie Mager of the Washington Environmental Council.
The pesticide leftovers are part of a long list of chemical discards the city has burned in the incinerator - - over the objections of the Spokane County Air Pollution Control Authority.
The city charges $131.75 a ton for the unusual discards, compared with $97 a ton for regular garbage. Since 1993, they’ve earned $242,538 on the waste deals, city records show.
The industrial wastes come from throughout the Northwest and Canada. They include Boeing’s military secrets from government contracts, outdated tranquilizers, oil filters, booms used to sop up oil spills, old Elmer’s Glue and plastic in-line skate wheels.
They all qualify as “solid waste” under the city’s interpretation of its air permit for the trash plant and are safe to burn, said Taam.
That depends, said SCAPCA Director Eric Skelton.
“Special wastes” were not included in test burns for the plant’s air pollution permit, and some could increase toxic air emissions, Skelton said.
“If you materially change the waste stream, you materially alter emissions,” he said.
City officials say they don’t take enough special wastes to do that. “Some 99.9 percent of what’s burned in the plant is regular municipal solid waste and less than 1 percent is special waste,” said Phil Williams, Spokane engineering director.
In 1996, the city took in 322,637 tons of solid waste. Some 267,850 tons were burned, 25,206 tons went to the Regional Compost Facility near Colbert, and 30,581 tons were sent to a regional landfill in Klickitat County.
Since 1993, approximately 2,028 tons of “special waste” has been burned in the incinerator, city records show.
The peak year was 1994, when the Canadian pesticide containers were burned.
That triggered objections and a threatened fine from SCAPCA, strong criticism from environmental groups, and complaints by 18 garbage workers that fumes from the burning containers gave them stomachaches, sore throats and burning eyes.
After that controversy, the city accepted only 12.6 tons of the “special” discards in 1995. In 1996 and 1997, the tonnage rose sharply.
Some 306 tons were burned last year - and 705 tons through August of this year. It’s accepted only when there’s room in the burner, Williams said.
The city has refused some materials, records show. The rejects include 70 barrels of solidified asphalt, oil-contaminated soils, water-based paint and glue from a Canadian plywood plant. Some were rejected because they would produce toxic fumes.
After the Canadian pesticide flap, Williams got an OK to continue accepting some “special wastes” from a city-county solid waste board made up of city and county elected officials.
The Department of Ecology tried to broker an agreement with the city and SCAPCA on what besides regular garbage could be burned. But the effort failed.
The controversy flared this year after Ecology informed SCAPCA that another Canadian company was sending 20 cubic yards of diesel-soaked absorbent rags from a British Columbia diesel spill to the plant.
Anthony Grover, Ecology’s new regional director, is trying to jump-start the stalled talks about which “special wastes” are acceptable.
The mediation sessions are set for Nov. 4 and 7. They’ll include Taam, Williams, Skelton and Kelly Vigeland, SCAPCA’s air quality engineer.
“We hope the sessions are very fruitful,” Taam said.
Mager and representatives from other environmental groups are meeting with Grover on Friday to give their perspective.
They want Ecology to limit wastes burned in the plant to Spokane County.
“When the incinerator was approved, they said it would only be for local wastes. We weren’t supposed to become a clearing house for everyone else,” she said.
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