Richland's Perma-Fix Northwest to pay hefty EPA fine

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJuly 17, 2013 

Perma-Fix Northwest in Richland has agreed to pay a $187,620 fine and improve waste-handling practices, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

EPA's National Enforcement Investigation Center conducted a May 2010 inspection of Perma-Fix's radioactive and hazardous waste storage areas. Waste was stored in an area not covered by a permit for three years when the limit is three months, the agency said.

Richard Grondin, general manager of the Richland plant, said Wednesday that Perma-Fix was following guidance from the state in spring 2010 and adhering to state rules. The company is regulated by both EPA and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

At issue were six drums of waste with particulate from the off-gas system of Perma-Fix's thermal processing equipment. The waste was stored securely in a building with a concrete pad that was licensed for low-level radioactive waste, Grondin said.

Perma-Fix treats Hanford waste for disposal. It also accepts waste from other Department of Energy sites and commercial waste from the nuclear industry, utilities and hospitals.

Perma-Fix needed an analysis to see if the drums also contained hazardous chemical waste, in this case metals, Grondin said. Mixed waste, which contains both radioactive and hazardous chemical contamination, is covered by a different permit and can be stored elsewhere at Perma-Fix, he said.

Perma-Fix resolved the issue within a month of the 2010 inspection, he said. EPA agreed that Perma-Fix has improved waste-handling operations since 2010 and is complying with regulations.

Perma-Fix did have a backlog of waste at the time of the inspection, Grondin said. The company took over the plant in June 2007 and initially concentrated on a backlog of waste it acquired, which led to a backlog of more recently accepted waste in 2010.

EPA documents said analytical results of the contents of the stored waste should have been available within 90 days. The waste was generated from August 2007 to December 2009. Analytical results for some of the oldest drums were received a couple of weeks before the inspection, which was about 1,000 days after the waste was generated.

"When handling these types of waste, there's simply no way it can be stored in a non-permitted area for three years when the regulations only allow three months," said Ed Kowalski, director of EPA's Office of Compliance and Enforcement in Seattle, in a statement.

Perma-Fix has 30 days to pay the fine to the U.S. Treasury, according to the settlement agreement.

Earlier this month the Department of Energy also agreed to pay a $136,000 fine after the EPA National Enforcement Investigations Center conducted an inspection and questioned whether several Hanford waste storage units were covered by permits.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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