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Ecology fines Spokane Public Schools for improper waste disposal, citing ‘history of repeat violations’

UPDATED: Wed., May 13, 2020

Spokane Public Schools has agreed to pay a $6,000 fine after being cited for repeat violations of procedures for disposal of solid waste, the Washington State Department of Ecology said Tuesday.

The violations occurred at the district’s maintenance facility, located in northeast Spokane at the intersection of Garland and Regal.

According to the department, the district “did not designate solid waste prior to disposal and follow regulatory procedures for designating waste as dangerous or extremely hazardous.”

The citation was issued on Jan. 23 following what the state termed a “history of repeat violations” going back almost 12 years.

During the last four inspection cycles, dating to August 2008, the facility was cited for 13 violations in 2008, 11 violations in 2013, 12 violations in 2016, and nine violations in 2019 (six of which were repeated from the 2016 inspection).

“This recent incident was an unfortunate series of mistakes, which lead to a violation similar to those having occurred previously,” associate superintendent Mark Anderson said. “The district takes dangerous waste management seriously, and is using this unfortunate situation to increase staff awareness of proper management practices, and further improve the District’s compliance efforts.”

As a result of the history of repeat violations, an administrative order was issued in October 2019, requiring SPS to meet the following regulations: To meet time limits for proper disposal for universal wastes, specifically used batteries and lamps; conduct weekly inspection of central accumulation areas and keep a log onsite for at least five years; and accurately designate solid wastes prior to disposal as required by state law.

The new requirements stem partly from a DOE “dangerous waste compliance evaluation inspection” at the maintenance facility. During that inspection, a cutting oil product used by the plumbing and steamfitters’ trades for the purpose of lubricating pipe threads while they are being cut, was identified by the DOE to contain a chemical called “chlorinated paraffin.”

Chlorinated paraffin is excluded from the federal hazardous waste regulations and readily available for purchase. However, under state rules, waste oil containing the substance must be managed as hazardous waste. The DOE found rags and a piece of cardboard under the thread cutting machine that they suspected to contain chlorinated paraffin.

In an effort to respond and mitigate this concern, a staff member placed the suspected rags and cardboard in a bucket or similar container in preparation for “designation” and disposal. The container was not labeled properly, and it was discovered a custodian, unaware the container potentially contained hazardous waste, disposed of it in the normal waste.

“So, we acknowledged it was a mistake.” Anderson said.

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