Why do we conduct inspections?
Routine inspections are a critical regulatory line of defense between the millions of pounds of dangerous waste produced in Washington and potential environmental contamination. Mismanagement of dangerous waste:
- Allows toxic chemicals to contaminate our water, soil and air
- Pollutes stormwater runoff
- Creates expensive cleanups
- Risks harming human health and the environment.
Significant environmental violations include:
- Hazardous material spills
- Illegal disposal
- Failure to designate dangerous waste
- Poor container management.
Historic data shows that increased compliance inspections result in finding fewer serious environmental violations. A 2002 study of Washington businesses by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency shows compliance drops markedly after three years of not being inspected. Frequent inspections are critical to protecting human health and the environment.
Inspections jumped in calendar year 2013 to their highest levels since 2004, then fell in 2014, in part due to double the number of enforcement actions than in 2013. When serious compliance issues found during inspections remain unresolved, inspectors must spend added time on enforcement cases rather than move on to the next inspection. With a stronger field presence 14 years ago, dangerous waste inspections found serious environmental violations at only 27 percent of businesses.
In 2014, inspections found serious environmental violations at 56 percent of regulated businesses inspected—almost double the 2000 rate. As the number of inspections rebounds to targeted levels and beyond, we hope to lower the chance of finding significant violations over time.
How we can increase environmental compliance at businesses producing dangerous waste in Washington
- Promoting the Local Source Control Partnership. Many smaller businesses had never had an environmental inspection or technical assistance visit until we created the Local Source Control Partnership. Since 2008, performance contracts with over 20 city and county governments in Puget Sound and the Spokane River watersheds, have produced over 15,000 technical assistance visits to help small businesses learn and comply with dangerous waste and stormwater regulations.
- Increasing the number of inspections for large and medium-sized businesses by putting more staff resources towards inspections and creating a more efficient enforcement process.
Washington law uses the term dangerous waste. Federal law uses the term hazardous waste. While these terms are sometimes used interchangeably, Washington’s definition includes some wastes that are not included in the federal definition.