A Richland company, Perma-Fix Northwest, has agreed to pay a $36,400 penalty for improperly handling mixed dangerous and radioactive waste. The company treats, stores and disposes of various types of dangerous waste at its north Richland plant. It handles waste from a number of sites, including the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Perma-Fix Northwest will pay the penalty to settle violations for failing to properly designate the waste, storing waste in a non-permitted area, and failing to inspect an area that was found to contain dangerous, potentially cancer-causing substances.
During an inspection, the Washington Department of Ecology found dangerous kitty litter-sized granules of waste on the floor and under a grate associated with a waste shredding unit. Analysis confirmed that the waste contained heavy metal cadmium at a concentration that designates it as dangerous waste, as well as radioactive substances including cobalt, cesium and uranium. Records indicate the business changed hands in 2007 and the current operators have not used the waste shredding unit left at the facility by the prior owner.
“Under the terms of their operating permit, they had an obligation to inspect all areas of their operation, and ensure that any dangerous, radioactive or mixed waste was identified and cleaned up,” said Alex Smith, Nuclear Waste Program manager for Ecology. “Had anything happened to disturb this material and make it airborne, it would have posed serious health risks to anyone who inhaled it.”
Ecology assessed a $52,000 penalty, but reduced that by one-third when Perma-Fix Northwest entered into an expedited settlement agreement. The settlement requires the company to waive its right to appeal. Ecology uses this expedited settlement process in an effort to save the state, taxpayers and Perma-Fix the expense of costly litigation.
“Perma-Fix Northwest Richland appreciates the professionalism of Ecology staff and the role they play in ensuring the safe and compliant operation of facilities such as ours,” said Richard Grondin, vice-president and general manager. “We share their goals and objectives and look forward to continuing to work together to maintain the safety of the public and our employees. All of the corrective measures necessary to resolve the described violations were initiated immediately following the inspection and have been completed. At no time were our employees or the public exposed.”