Penalty levied against Tacoma petroleum company for water quality violations

The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has issued a $112,000 penalty to a Tacoma-area company that has had several years of water quality violations and hasn't taken steps to correct the problems...

OLYMPIA, WA, Dec. 18, 2008 -- The Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) has issued a $112,000 penalty to a Tacoma-area company that has had several years of water quality violations and hasn't taken steps to correct the problems.

Associated Petroleum Products is a petroleum tank farm and distribution facility in Tacoma. The company treats stormwater onsite, then releases it to a series of ditches that empty into Commencement Bay's Blair Waterway. The company is required to test its discharges regularly to ensure released stormwater meets permit limits that protect water quality.

Nearly two years of test results have shown levels of certain pollutants -- such as benzene, total suspended solids, oil and grease, and zinc -- above allowable levels. After each reported violation, Ecology sent letters reminding Associated Petroleum of the need to comply with its permit and the possibility of enforcement action.

The violations have continued, and Ecology is concerned about the potential harm to aquatic life and human health posed by the pollutants. Benzene is cancer-causing, and permit levels are set based on risk to humans. Zinc is toxic to aquatic life.

"Puget Sound recovery is one of Ecology's top priorities, and part of that effort is helping businesses control stormwater pollution," said Kelly Susewind, Ecology's Water Quality program manager. "Permits define the maximum amount of pollution a body of water can take before the toxic load is too much.

"Many companies are doing a good job at following their permits, but others -- like Associated Petroleum - will need to do a much better job of following their stormwater management permit requirements. It's part of the work we all have to do to make Puget Sound healthy again," Susewind said.

Some of the state's urban waterways are contaminated with dangerous chemicals. These come from industrial sources, contaminated sites, stormwater, municipal wastewater and businesses that use hazardous wastes. Once in the water, the chemicals can enter the food chain and threaten human health and the environment.

Ecology is focusing on three contaminated urban bays in its Urban Waters Initiative, including Commencement Bay. Ecology has two new inspectors dedicated to find and eliminate sources of contamination to Commencement Bay. The Urban Waters staff work closely with other existing local government programs such as the city of Tacoma and Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department. This protects areas which have already been cleaned up and helps avoid the incidence of new cleanup sites.

Urban Waters staff inspected Associated Petroleum in late 2007, and the findings were shared with the company as well as Ecology's Water Quality program.

Associated Petroleum has 30 days to respond to this penalty. The company can file an appeal with the state Pollution Control Hearings Board, ask Ecology for reconsideration or pay the fine.

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