Tideflats hazardous waste treatment plant hit with EPA penalty

A Tacoma hazardous waste storage and treatment facility with a history of spills will pay $125,800 to the Environmental Protection Agency to settle claims the company failed to carry the proper insurance coverage.

The EPA announced the settlement with Emerald Services this week.

According to an EPA news release, Emerald Services failed to maintain the necessary third-party liability insurance coverage for its Tideflats facility for the past six years. As part of the settlement, Emerald Services agreed to pay the penalty and also amended its current insurance policy to comply with its Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit.

“Having adequate insurance coverage for your business, especially one that stores and handles hazardous waste, isn’t an option, it’s the law,” said Ed Kowalski, director of the EPA’s Region 10 Compliance and Enforcement Division in Seattle, in a statement. “Liability insurance is a key requirement of the hazardous waste-permitting system, ensuring that commercial hazardous waste handlers operate in a safe manner to protect people’s health and the environment.”

Bill Connors, vice president of compliance for Emerald Services’ parent company Clean Harbors, said Tuesday that it was a technical issue that’s been cleared up, and that Emerald Services simply had the wrong language on its certificate of insurance.

“I would consider this kind of an administrative error more than a significant violation,” Connors said. “What had happened was the particular item we got cited for, in the regulations it specifies that you have to have the exact wording as written in the regulation on either a certificate or an endorsement to your insurance policy, and what happened was Emerald had put the endorsement language on a certificate, and there is slight differences between the certificate and endorsement.”

Proper insurance coverage is necessary to cover damages should a company’s operations harm people or property, the EPA said.

Emerald Services has a history of spills and incidents at its Tacoma facility.

Among them:

▪ In 2010, the state Department of Ecology fined the company $14,000 by for mishandling the cleanup of an oil spill on the Tideflats.

▪ The company also paid more than $140,000 in fines and mitigation costs to the Ecology Department and the EPA in 2006 for releasing nearly 1,700 pounds of toluene, an industrial solvent, into a Tacoma storm drain.

▪ In 2013, a 1,900-gallon spill of a highly dangerous fuel oil/asphalt mixture injured a worker at the facility, according to the EPA.

Emerald Services also was fined $99,000 by the state Department of Ecology for two back-to-back spills of a “dangerous waste solvent” Dec. 7-8, 2014 after a tank overflowed and spilled 100 gallons. The spill was the result of employee error, officials said.

“Emerald’s pattern of spills and releases suggests the facility may have a higher probability of future accidents, underscoring the need to have liability coverage for possible bodily injury, property damage and environmental restoration,” the EPA said in its new release.

Emerald’s Tacoma plant recycles waste industrial solvents and antifreeze and re-refines used motor oil. Earlier this year, Emerald Services was seeking approval from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency to increase its permitted capacity by 10 percent.

Puget Sound Clean Air Agency staff this spring told dozens of people who gathered for an informational meeting about Emerald’s permit application and a proposed Targa project that permits have to be reviewed to make sure companies comply with air-quality standards as they expand their operations.

At the time, agency staff said they didn’t think there would be a reason to deny the permits, though conditions might be attached to the approval.

Steve Van Slyke, director of compliance for Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, said Emerald Services still has an open permit application but that the company has asked for a pause.

“After they applied, they indicated they wanted to take more time to think about the permit they were requesting, so no work has been completed on that,” Van Slyke said this week. “They just said in an email they’d like some more time to think about this before moving forward. It’s still an open application but hasn’t moved forward to the point where it would be ready for public comment.”

Candice Ruud: 253-597-8441, @candiceruud