Dept. of Ecology, Tacoma small businesses collaborate on Commencement Bay protection

More than 700 small companies in and around Commencement Bay are getting free technical assistance to help save them money and protect the health of Puget Sound.

Inspectors from the Washington Department of Ecology, City of Tacoma and Pierce County are helping educate firms about the best ways to safely manage the chemical wastes and other hazardous materials used in their operations.

Sally Toteff, who oversees Ecology activities throughout southwest Washington, said state and local inspectors help companies meet requirements for water quality, hazardous waste reduction and toxic cleanup.

“After a site visit, we usually recommend businesses take simple, cost-effective measures like keeping secure lids on chemical containers, making sure outdoor storage areas are frequently swept, and regularly cleaning out grease traps and catch basins,” Toteff said.

Ecology recently developed a two-page brochure to help. The easy-to-use handout offers a list of best management practices to keep pollutants out of Washington’s waters or sanitary sewers. Copies are available online at .

Since 1988, Ecology has invested more than $58 million to help clean up Commencement Bay, which is also a federal Superfund site. The state funds were made possible by a voter-approved initiative for reducing toxic threats in Washington.

The money comes from a fee on hazardous products. Washington voters created the fee when they passed Initiative 97 — the Model Toxics Control Act — in 1988. The money is dedicated specifically to environmental cleanups and protection.

At one time, Commencement Bay was one of the most contaminated estuaries in the country. During the past 20 years, however, the bulk of the most harmful pollution in the bay has been removed or covered.

“Our goal is to prevent our local waterways that drain to Commencement Bay from being recontaminated,” Toteff said. “By avoiding cleanups, companies that safely handle their chemicals now will keep money in their pockets in the future.”

Commencement Bay was one of three areas chosen by the 2007 Legislature for Washington’s $2.1 million Urban Waters Initiative. The effort is aimed at preventing new contamination, or recontamination, of sites that have already been cleaned up. Other Initiative areas are the Lower Duwamish Waterway in south Seattle and Spokane River reach in Spokane.

In the Commencement Bay area, there are 38 state cleanup sites, 18 Superfund sites, 550 businesses that generate regulated amounts of hazardous waste and more than 200 regulated facilities that discharge industrial stormwater.