Thursday, July 19, 2012

Pacific Steel and Recycling takes the downside out of recycling - sometimes a visit is all it takes

By Elaine Snouwaert and Jani Gilbert, Water Quality Program, Eastern Regional Office

Pacific Steel and Recycling, with Washington Department of Ecology’s help, has recently undergone some big changes in Spokane so their recycling operation is part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

Surface water, like lakes, rivers and streams, is especially vulnerable to pollution in urban areas because it is next to human activities. Industries, businesses, and residential areas all are sources of pollutants that can run off to stormwater systems. These stormwater systems then transport the pollutants to streams or groundwater.

Radiators had leaked and storage bins had no lids. Problem solved!
In August 2010, staff from the Department of Ecology’s Urban Waters Program conducted an inspection at Pacific Steel and Recycling on North Ralph Street, which revealed problems that could result in heavy rain and snow carrying pollutants into the Spokane River and the aquifer below. Within two months, the recycling company had hired an environmental firm and an engineering firm to develop plans and designs to address the problems.

The problem

Recycling bins and dumpsters did not have lids, so when it rained, stormwater mixed with the materials and carried pollutants to the nearby stormwater system. The inspectors also noted there were no catch basins upstream of several drywells. Without catch basins, recycling process waste could reach the drywells, which hold the water until it percolates to the aquifer. In addition, inspectors found automobile fluid collection areas and several pieces of machinery that were leaking fluids.

“Obviously recycling is a good thing, but it can be messy and it can actually be a source of pollution.” said Urban Waters inspector Ted Hamlin.

Hamlin explains that recycling facilities, like Pacific Steel, collect and process many different materials from many places, which can result in a lot of different pollutants all at a concentrated site. The recycling process may produce pollutants, or the recyclable material may have a polluting residue in or on it. Without methods of containing and disposing of these materials, a rain event could result in a toxic stew of pollutants running off the site and into natural water sources.

Pacific Steel installed a brand new grassy swale to filter pollutants.

The solution

Pacific Steel and Recycling hired Schwyn Environmental Services, LLC (Schwyn) to develop a plan, and Schwyn submitted it to Ecology in October 2010. Several of the recommendations from the inspection had already been put in place. Schwyn and Pacific Steel began training staff in how to contain pollutants and how to keep house to prevent contaminants from leaving the site.

In November 2011, Ted Hamlin made a follow-up visit to Pacific Steel and Recycling and found that all the needed changes had been made. New roof gutter systems were channeling roof runoff away from processing areas to new drywells; a new grassy swale was scheduled for construction; catch basins were in place to intercept debris; and no fluid leaks were evident on site.

“Sometimes a visit to the site is all that is needed to launch actions that will protect water quality,” Hamlin said.

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