Old gasoline that had sat on a boat for eight years is poured into a barrel by John Vance who handles household hazardous waste at the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Old gasoline that had sat on a boat for eight years is poured into a barrel by John Vance who handles household hazardous waste at the Coupeville Solid Waste Complex. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Tons of toxic trash targeted in state budget cuts

Program for poisons collected 300,000 pounds last year

Gene Clark’s job is toxic.

And he prefers it stay that way.

But looming cuts in the Washington state budget may affect the Island County program he oversees that collects and disposes of everyday items that are useful but dangerous to people and the environment.

Weed killer, oven cleaner, oil-based paint, motor oil, that old can of nasty rusting in your shed.

Last year, Island County collected 297,000 pounds of household hazardous waste. Motor oil accounted for 195,000 pounds; none of that came from auto shops, “just a lot of do-it-yourself oil changes,” Clark said.

Funded by a state program called Coordinated Prevention Grants, the hazardous waste collection is targeted as one of many areas to cut in order to boost education. It’s managed by the Washington Department of Ecology as an incentive to reduce exposure to toxins.

“The funds that have paid for this program are being threatened,” Clark said, pointing to rows and rows of barrels identified with labels such as acids, poisons, aerosols, oxidizers, paints.

In short, all items marked with a skull and crossbones symbolizing death, danger and dispose of properly should end up at the Coupeville Solid Waste Facility. Here, they’re categorized, condensed, sealed and loaded into 55-gallon black drums bound for processing plants across the country.

“You don’t want the risk of mixing any of this into (regular) trash,” explains Clark, recycle and hazardous waste coordinator. “You run the risk of spontaneous combustion.”

Four years ago, $28 million was allocated to counties for Coordinated Prevention Grants. Two years ago, that amount was reduced to $15 million. In the current proposed capital budget still undergoing revisions in a legislative Special Session, $10 million is allocated in both the governor’s and senate budgets.

“The state Legislature has been reducing the funding for this service for a number of years,” said County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson. “Locally, that means a reduction in capacity from $92,000 annually to approximately $20,000 within our Environmental Health department.”

Three solid waste employee salaries are partially funded and one position is entirely paid for with the prevention grants, said Joantha Guthrie, Island County Solid Waste Manager.

“We’re looking at possibly having to do away with one position. We really don’t know at this point,” Guthrie said. “But it’s not looking good.

“I’m really hoping there won’t by an impact to the public but we just don’t know.”

Charging a fee to dispose of hazardous household items could be one of many options but that would defeat the program’s ultimate goal.

“We need to keep the toxins and hazardous material out of the general waste stream and that’s what this free program does,” Clark said. “We get so much oil-based paint turned in. If people had to start paying, people would be dumping it wherever, which is what used to happen.”

Last year, 42,000 pounds of oil-based paint were processed at the Coupeville facility. (It does not accept water or latex-based paint because that can be solidified and thrown in regular trash.)

“Without adequate state funding, mismanaged properties will be left to pollute the environment and costs will go up with more emergency clean up,” Price Johnson said. Without the transfer station collection program, she predicted “many hazardous materials will be dumped on private property.”

Monday, Freeland residents Bob Brower and Debra Whitson pulled into the Coupeville household hazardous waste area to get rid of gasoline that had been sitting on an idle boat. They unloaded a few 5-gallon portable gas cans and said they’d be returning with more.

“It has a 90-gallon tank and it’s almost full,” Brower said of the fishing boat. “We just bought it and needed to drain the tank.”

Added Whitson: “It was probably $1.10 a gallon when that gas was put in there.”

John Vance, a solid waste technician trained in hazardous materials, poured the gasoline into a big drum before being paged to check on a refrigerator coming in to be dumped; refrigerators have to be drained of solvents.

Last year, more than 5,300 residents took advantage of the household hazardous waste disposal sights, bringing in 6,000 pounds of aerosol cans and thousands upon thousands of bottles, cans and crates of seriously deadly chemicals.

Clark holds up a can of aluminum phosphide, which can turn into a deadly gas called phosphine gas when mixed with water.

“This is the same stuff that killed that family of four in Texas around Christmas,” he explains.

“They used it as a pesticide to get rid of mice under their mobile home, it got wet and the fumes killed them.”

Weird, wacky and wild things also end up here.

Snakes, worms, a dog fish, and an “alien” reside in the corner. They’re bottled in jars of formaldehyde and kept as a treasure trove of tacky trash. Except for the really bizarre plastic alien doll, it’s all real.

And sometimes stuff isn’t poisonous but just plain peculiar.

“Just this morning, someone left me all the fixins’ for a pina colada except for the rum,” Clark laughed. “Shredded coconut, coconut milk and a bottle of Southern Comfort.

“It’s kind of like a box of chocolates,” he mused. “You just never know what you’ll get.”

Toxic truffle, anyone?

Freeland residents, Bob Brower and Debra Whitson, get help disposing of 90 gallons of gasoline that had been sitting on a fishing boat they just purchased. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Freeland residents, Bob Brower and Debra Whitson, get help disposing of 90 gallons of gasoline that had been sitting on a fishing boat they just purchased. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

Many weird things have been left at the toxic waste site over the years, including unidentifiable jars of snakes, worms and fish, points out Gene Clark, recycling and hazardous waste coordinator.

Many weird things have been left at the toxic waste site over the years, including unidentifiable jars of snakes, worms and fish, points out Gene Clark, recycling and hazardous waste coordinator.

Extremely dangerous chemicals used on farms in the past still show up, says Gene Clark, Island County recycling and hazardous waste coordinator.

Extremely dangerous chemicals used on farms in the past still show up, says Gene Clark, Island County recycling and hazardous waste coordinator.

Cans of oven cleaner, spray paint, hair spray, fabric protector, bug killers and more added up to more than 6,000 pounds of aerosol cans that the public dropped off at Island County’s four household hazardous waste sites last year.

Cans of oven cleaner, spray paint, hair spray, fabric protector, bug killers and more added up to more than 6,000 pounds of aerosol cans that the public dropped off at Island County’s four household hazardous waste sites last year.

This alien showed up one day at Coupeville’s household hazardous waste area and coordinator Gene Clark saved it for his collection of weird and wacky waste.

This alien showed up one day at Coupeville’s household hazardous waste area and coordinator Gene Clark saved it for his collection of weird and wacky waste.

More in News

Big pigs turn on chickens | Island Scanner

Thursday, April 22 At 3:30 p.m., a caller reported that the manager… Continue reading

North Whidbey man jailed for car insurance fraud

Arnold F. Bodner, 58, pleaded guilty in Island County Superior Court April 16 to a single count of insurance false claim, which was a felony charge because the amount of the claim exceeded $1,500.

VQ-1 ‘World Watcher’ gains new commander

Cmdr. David Van Kampen has assumed command of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron… Continue reading

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
Junior Michael McKinney uses an arc welder to make a trailer hitch for a shed the class is making.
OHHS to expand skills classes with new building

The building may be used for engineering, manufacturing, automotive and construction classes that are in high demand.

Meeting set to interview three for assessor position

The Island County Republican Party Central Committee was tasked with nominating three people to replace Mary Engle, who resigned as the elected assessor earlier this year to become planning director.

Photo by Emily Gilbert/Whidbey News-Times
The Coupeville-Port Townsend ferry route will stay on one-boat service until at least June 27.
Coupeville route down to one ferry through June 27

Another delay in two-boat service means Coupeville ferry riders will need to squeeze onto one boat until at least June 27.

A crowd gathered to watch the Oak Harbor Fourth of July parade in 2017. There will be a parade this year to celebrate the Fourth after it was canceled during the coronavirus pandemic last year. File photo
Oak Harbor will have Fourth of July fireworks, parade

This year’s event will look slightly different to comply with safety guidelines.

Car crashes into building, boat during police chase

The car went through a building, struck a “Zodiac type boat” and came to rest against the far wall, the deputy’s report states.

District names interim superintendent

School board members unanimously voted for Karst Brandsma

Most Read