EPA settles with Tacoma EcoLab over environmental violations


Tacoma’s Tideflats.


Water and hygiene company EcoLab must pay about $214,000 in penalties for violating federal hazardous waste and pesticide laws that resulted in a fire at its facility on the Tacoma Tideflats in 2019, the Environmental Protection Agency announced.

The penalties are part of a settlement between EcoLab and the EPA where the company agreed to address the violations and pay penalties for the March 2019 fire that produced significant levels of hydrogen phosphide gas, prompting an evacuation of its facility.

One person working nearby was hospitalized due to inhalation exposure to the gas, according to a news release from the EPA. A shelter-in-place warning was also issued to a nearby facility.

“Failures like those at EcoLab can be catastrophic for people and the environment – companies handling pesticidal products must ensure that they comply not only with the requirements of a product’s label but also ensure that they dispose of the product legally,” said Ed Kowalksi, director of EPA northwest region’s Enforcement & Compliance Assurance Division.

EcoLab no longer operates the facility where the violations occurred, according to the release.

In an emailed statement Monday, spokesperson Roman Blahoski said the company manages its business “with the highest concern for health, safety and the environment.” He said the movement of partially spent insecticide to an EcoLab facility in March 2019 was not part of any standard service offered to customers.

EcoLab no longer accepts partially spent insecticides or fumigants for disposal as a result of this incident, Blahoski said in the email.

Employees at EcoLab placed about 177 pounds of partially spent Weevil-Cide, a pesticide, in two dry deactivation containers March 19, 2019 at its facility in Tacoma, according to the news release. That same day, Tacoma Fire Department, the Washington Department of Ecology and the EPA Emergency Response Program responded to a fire associated with the containers.

According to the Department of Ecology, the partially spent Weevil-Cide reacted with water in the air to produce phosphine, which spontaneously ignited.

The payments stem from violations of two federal laws. The EPA said EcoLab violated hazardous waste management requirements by receiving dangerous waste from offsite generators without a permit, failing to obtain an EPA transporter ID number and storing or treating dangerous waste without a permit.

EcoLab also disregarded the requirements of a pesticide’s label by collecting partially spent aluminum phosphide dust in large drums where gas vapors were confined, according to the release.

The EPA said the company also piled cloth bags of partially spent aluminum phosphide together and allowed the buildup of phosphine to exceed explosive concentrations.

This story was originally published October 25, 2021 12:06 PM.

Peter Talbot covers crime and breaking news in Pierce County. He started with The News Tribune in 2021. Before that, he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism at Indiana University. In college, he worked as an intern at NPR in Washington, D.C. He also interned for the Oregonian and the Tampa Bay Times.

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