By Tristan Hiegler
When toxic chemicals get into the water, it’s never a good thing. From the April diesel fuel spill in Squalicum Marina to the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, accidents happen and businesses need to be educated on their role in water pollution. Pollutants such as oil and gasoline can damage not only the ecosystems of the area but the businesses that depend on them as well.
A large-scale spill is one thing, but hundreds of unchecked businesses contributing trace amounts of pollution is quite another. Locally, it’s Bri Silbaugh’s job to talk to small and medium-sized businesses around Bellingham about limiting pollution and obeying all environmental and waste disposal regulations. She is a local source control specialist with the City of Bellingham’s Local Source Control Program, a position that was created in 2008 partially through a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology. She and her co-worker Mindy Collins go to different business sectors and talk to business owners and managers about hazardous wastes and storm water runoff.
In an effort to help businesses help themselves, Silbaugh goes industry by industry offering support and information tailored to that specific industry. Silbaugh said she chooses a business sector, such as marine trades or her current sector, local gas stations, and then makes a list of all businesses within that sector. She and Collins then send a letter asking to schedule a visit or drop in to make an appointment in person. She said they work with the businesses free of charge.
“I work for the government, but I’m really a consultant that goes out and helps the business come into compliance, or at least tells them how to come into compliance, with local and state and federal regulations,” Silbaugh said.
Assistance and compliance
During an inspection, Silbaugh said she primarily looks at hazardous wastes and any chemicals that may be swept along with storm water into drains. She said many drains in Bellingham do not go to a waste treatment plant but empty into streams or ocean water.
However, Silbaugh said she also looks for any and every possible source of pollution at a business. In addition to potential chemical spills and storm water runoff, she also examines potential air pollution sources, among others.
After an inspection, Silbaugh said she sends a follow-up letter to the business about how to best come into compliance with all the regulations they must obey based on her knowledge of those regulations.
Larry Leeper, owner of the boat repair shop, Leeper’s Marine, Inc., said Silbaugh inspected his facility on Valencia Street last year. He said he was deemed to be in full compliance with all pollution control regulations.
“We take our clean pretty seriously,” he said.
Leeper said his business has been family owned and operated since 1985. His business focuses on smaller ski boats that are used on lakes, but he also services and repairs some saltwater craft. He said the shop was remolded five years ago and is fully up to code on pollution prevention and waste product disposal.
Leeper has all leftover fuel and antifreeze are stored in labeled containers, and waste oil is funneled into a large Emerald Services tank inside the main shop contained within a metal grate.
Leeper said a dedicated drainage area is used for all storm water runoff. A small strip of grassy hillside next to the shop receives all water runoff from the shop’s roof. The grass acts as a natural filter that channels runoff into a drain that feeds into a cache pond.
Runoff from the shop’s working areas and repair bay goes into drains that lead to a oil separator before continuing on to a waste treatment plant.
In addition to making sure his area is kept clean and that pollutants are properly stored and disposed of, Leeper said he tries to cut down on pollutants produced from the boats while in the shop. Leeper’s Marine stocks biodegradable bilge cleaners and boat wash.
“When people buy the product, they are buying something that breaks down,” Leeper said.
Additionally, Leeper stocks oil absorbers to be used in boat bilges. The bilge is the area where the engine is housed and oil collects. Leeper said if there’s any kind of leak, the bilge is where it would be, so it’s important to have something to soak up any excess oil.
Help from the Department of Ecology
Katie Skipper, communications manager for the Washington Department of Ecology’s Bellingham Field Office, said its important for marine based businesses, such as Leeper’s Marine, to control their pollution output. Ultimately, polluting ocean water and contaminating the waterfront will have a negative impact on businesses. Skipper said pollution can kill recreational and tourist activities like boating and kayaking, which directly harms businesses tied to those sports.
Furthermore, Skipper said pollution can kill off fish and other marine wildlife that local companies depend on for income and residents depend on for food.
Carl Andersen, a hazardous materials specialist with the Department of Ecology’s Spill Prevention, Preparedness and Response Program, said he works with businesses to control pollution. He said he and his co-workers do education and outreach to local businesses in order to prevent any spills.
“I think we work really as a team to educate the community,” Andersen said.
He said in addition to education, the spill program prepares businesses for spills by advising them to drill their workers on what to do during an oil spill or similar incident. He suggested that businesses have a spill plan for contacting help and containing a spill, as well as a spill kit with the appropriate materials to help clean up any hazardous chemicals.
Andersen said the spills program is willing to stand shoulder to shoulder with local businesses in the case of a spill in order to contain chemicals and prevent damage to natural resources.
Leeper said he believes in a responsible approach to taking care of his environment. He picks up trash and debris from the road by his shop because it is the right thing to do.
“The way to be a good steward, the way to be a good environmentalist, is not to be radical but practice good general care,” he said.