Tacoma facility hit with $1.9 million fine for mismanaging hazardous materials

A hazardous-waste facility on the Tacoma Tideflats has been slapped with a $1.9 million fine for mismanaging materials that led to a large fire last year.

Stericycle-Tacoma, which operates under the name “Burlington Environmental,” has 30 days to appeal the penalty issued by the Washington State Department of Ecology.

It is the fourth largest fine ever issued by the department.

Investigators found Stericycle improperly disposed of tetrazole, a hazardous powdered chemical used to inflate vehicle airbags, which led to a fire in July 2018.

“People could have been injured or killed by Stericycle’s mismanagement of these dangerous materials,” said Maia Bellon, Ecology’s director. “They are required by law to meet strict permit conditions. This incident shows a complete disregard for the safety of their employees and nearby communities, and that’s totally unacceptable.”

Stericycle is the largest of two businesses in the state that collects and disposes of hazardous waste generated by other businesses.

Last July, the facility accepted 510 drums of tetrazole and emptied several dozen of them with the intention of loading the material onto a rail car so it could be shipped to a landfill.

They were required to send the drums to a licensed incinerator, according to Ecology.

A large fire erupted while the waste was being processed.

None of the employees were injured.

As Ecology was investigating the cause of the blaze, officials said Stericycle “provided misleading and incomplete documentation,” according to a press release.

Investigators determined the company’s employees did not have proper training and did not follow proper procedures at the Tacoma operation.

Another fire started in November 2018 in a shredder after containers with leftover liquid chemicals mixed, something Ecology warned them about not doing in a 2017 compliance letter.

“Because of the repeated problems with training, oversight and abiding by the facility’s permit conditions, along with the $1.9 million fine, Ecology gave Stericycle 30 days to come into compliance or face revocation of its operating permit,” according to the release.

This isn’t the first time Stericycle has been fined for mismanagement.

In 2014, it was ordered to pay $14,000 for failing to follow permit requirements for analyzing waste at the Tideflats facility.

Stacia Glenn covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. She started with The News Tribune in 2010. Before that, she spent six years writing about crime in Southern California for another newspaper.