The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a settlement of a significant hazardous waste liability case against Stericycle, a company that treats and stores hazardous wastes at facilities in Kent and Tacoma, Washington.
“Protecting human health and the environment also means ensuring that storing and treating hazardous waste at a commercial level does not harm people or their property,” says EPA Region 10 Office of Compliance and Enforcement Director Ed Kowalski. “Protection – and fairness – dictates that a company must be able to compensate its neighbors if it does them harm.”
Stericycle agreed to pay a $150,000 penalty after EPA found that the company violated terms of its waste-handling and storage permit by failing to maintain a liability insurance policy that would provide adequate coverage to third parties – or neighbors – whose health and properties could be harmed by a release of hazardous wastes from the facilities.
Liability insurance is a particularly important issue in the low-income areas where these types of facilities often operate. Such insurance is a key component of the overall permitting system, which is intended to ensure the safe operation of commercial hazardous waste handling facilities, where dangerous fires, spills, and other incidents can occur. The EPA found that pay-outs in Stericycle’s policy could have been consumed by legal fees rather than payment to those harmed by such a release.
EPA is looking closely at the liability insurance policies at all hazardous waste handlers in the Pacific Northwest and is working closely with the states’ environmental agencies to ensure these handlers are meeting all their permit obligations.