Written by Dawn DeVroom, IDR Environmental Services
The recent federal case against the company that bottles Crystal Geyser Natural Alpine Spring Water proves that the improper handling of hazardous waste can be costly.
Recently, CG Roxane pled guilty in U.S. District Court to unlawful storage of hazardous waste and unlawful transportation of hazardous material. The plea agreement to the two counts came with a $5 million criminal fine.
The charges stemmed from allegations that over the last 15 years, CG Roxane has dumped wastewater contaminated with arsenic into a man-made pond at the company’s Olancha, California, facility. Samples taken by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board revealed arsenic levels were eight times higher than legally allowed.
This case underscores the importance of proper identification, transportation and disposal of hazardous waste. It also stresses the consequences of not working with the right certified company to ensure your business is meeting all state and federal regulations. Not doing so can result in substantial fines and negative publicity that can have a disastrous effect on your business.
Improper Waste Disposal Can Be Costly
Failure to manage hazardous waste streams according to state and federal guidelines can bring unwanted consequences for both the environment and your company.
As CG Roxane discovered, costly criminal fines often accompany cases in which companies are found guilty of improper hazardous waste management. Two other companies may find themselves in trouble from this case as well. CG Roxane hired United Pumping Services Inc. and United Storm Water Inc. to transport and treat the wastewater. Both could face fines of up to $8 million if found guilty for their role in the case.
Other multimillion-dollar companies have faced similar consequences. Companies like FedEx, Rite Aid and Walmart have been fined millions of dollars over the past few years for improper waste management practices. Walmart, in particular, agreed to pay more than $81 million after pleading guilty in 2013 to six counts of violating the Clean Water Act.
In addition to fines, improper waste disposal can be a nightmare for a company’s public image, and worse, become a risk to public safety. Spills, fires, explosions and exposure to toxic chemicals can stem from the mishandling of hazardous waste.
How To Ensure Proper Waste Management
It is critical for hazardous waste generators to ensure compliance with regulations by providing ongoing training opportunities for employees and by working with an experienced hazardous waste disposal company.
The onus falls on you to ensure any hazardous waste you generate is disposed of properly. That responsibility does not end once your waste is removed from company property. Under the Resource and Recovery Act of 1976 (RCRA), you are legally and financially responsible for the appropriate treatment and proper disposal of that waste … from cradle to grave.
Choosing the wrong vendor can prove costly, too.
So, how do you properly vet a company for the best business practices and avoid the nightmare scenarios described above?
1. Begin with a thorough background check of a vendor.
In addition to checking state and federal licenses, set up an interview with the vendor. Ask questions such as:
- Do you have a Dun & Bradstreet report or a bank letter of credit?
- Do you meet minimum insurance requirements and have coverage for accidents?
- Do you have adequate personnel that are properly trained and certified?
- Can you provide a statement of qualifications (SOQ)?
- How do you deal with unknown chemicals?
- Are you legally permitted for the transportation, storage, treatment and disposal of hazardous waste materials?
- Can you provide a list of references on past related projects?
More ideas for questions to ask a vendor can be found in our article, What Manufacturers Must Know About Hazardous Waste Disposal.
2. Confirm the experience of any vendor being considered.
A hazardous waste generalist, for example, is used to working in different environments and has a broad base of experience working with different toxic chemicals.
Check to make sure the vendor includes these services:
- Identification of waste streams by profiling and testing them
- Development of site-specific plans, including training and emergency preparation
- Transportation to recycling and disposal sites
- Manifest preparation and any other paperwork that must be completed
3. Look for a certified hazardous waste disposal company that is consultative.
In other words, look for a company that offers a hazardous waste walk-through program.
Areas of focus should include:
- Waste manifesting
- Hazardous waste procedures
- Waste storage evaluation
- Emergency readiness
- Hazardous waste evaluation
- Employee training procedures
A waste walk-through program will help you stay atop any regulatory changes at the local, state and federal levels.
Better Safe Than Sorry
The improper handling of hazardous waste can have devastating effects on the environment, community and your business.
Many companies that do not take the proper precautions to ensure the waste they generate is properly disposed of find themselves tangled up in a legal mess for years. At the end of that mess is rarely a positive outcome for the company.
Working with a certified hazardous waste disposal service will help you avoid costly fines and a tarnished public image, as well as allow you to be assured that the hazardous waste your company generates is being transported and disposed of safely and legally.
About the Author
Dawn DeVroom is the CFO at IDR Environmental Services based in California. The company specializes in hazardous waste disposal.