The volume of hazardous waste generated in Washington has dropped by at least 90 million pounds in the past decade, thanks in part to technical assistance provided to businesses by the state.

Assistance from the Washington Department of Ecology (DOE) has been particularly crucial, says Gov. Gary Locke.

“It isn’t always enough to simply pass a law and expect everyone to figure out how to comply,” says Locke. “By offering technical help, we can reduce the frustration level, help businesses save money and protect our citizens and the environment from hazardous chemicals.”

A 1992 state law requires facilities in Washington that use or generate hazardous substances to adopt pollution-prevention plans. But modifying industrial processes to use or produce smaller amounts of hazardous material can require complicated engineering that may not be readily available or affordable for some businesses.

From July 1998 through June 1999, Ecology helped more than 1,600 businesses, showing them how to limit their use of chemicals or reduce the amount of hazardous waste they produce. Since last July, the department has advised another 1,450 facilities.

With help from DOE, businesses are complying with the law. Greg Sorlie of the Ecology Department oversees a pool of full-time engineers and environmental specialists available to advise facilities. He said improvements could be as simple as turning off a continuously running faucet, or as complex as a major redesign of an industrial process.

“In many cases, a business’s investment is recovered quickly through lower supply costs or less cost for disposing of their hazardous wastes,” says Sorlie.

“The technical-assistance team was of incredible value to my firm,” says Eric Hampton, general manager of Rainier Ballistics in Tacoma. “Ecology performed an exhaustive and thorough evaluation of our operations and helped us uncover ways to improve our process, cut costs and reduce the amount of hazardous waste our firm creates. These efforts are an asset to us all.”

In addition to working one-on-one with individual businesses, the department also hosts informational workshops. During a 12-month period, 2,900 people attended one of the 62 workshops provided by Ecology. “We have developed a cooperative relationship with many companies,” says Sorlie. “They appreciate that we want to help them make long-lasting improvements, and not just find fault.”

Companies can request technical assistance by contacting the DOE office in Lacey at (360) 407-6300

By Kamilla K. McClelland, Business Examiner staff