Over a 10-month stretch in 2017, Stericycle Inc. repeatedly discharged polluted wastewater from its medical waste processing plant in Morton. The wastewater disrupted the city’s treatment plant and threatened aquatic life in the Tilton River.
The Washington Department of Ecology has fined Stericycle $72,000 for not properly treating its wastewater, and for not notifying the city or Ecology within 24 hours of its violations.
Stericycle receives medical waste from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. It is required (by an Ecology permit) to limit conventional pollutants like pH, oil and grease, solids, and any material that consumes oxygen in the water.
One of Stericycle’s polluted discharges overwhelmed Morton’s treatment plant and caused the plant to violate its own water quality permit. Another discharge included excessive mercury, which can cause death or disease to living organisms. And, in nine cases, the company exceeded the limits set to protect oxygen in water; fish and other aquatic animals need the dissolved oxygen to live.
“All companies are expected to carefully manage their facilities so discharges do not cause harmful pollution. When Stericycle sent polluted wastewater to Morton’s treatment plant, it disrupted city operations,” said Heather Bartlett, who manages Ecology’s water quality program. “We expect Stericycle to promptly make the necessary changes to its treatment system to protect their workers, Morton’s facility, and waters downstream.”
In addition to the penalty, Ecology has ordered Stericycle to hire outside experts to assess the company’s treatment system within 30 days, and propose corrective action to Ecology within 60 days. The company must complete all corrective action within 90 days.
Stericycle has 30 days to appeal this penalty to the Washington State Pollution Control Hearings Board. Water pollution fines are placed in the state’s Coastal Protection Fund that provides grants to local and tribal governments for water quality improvement projects.