Nye County disposal firm fined $500,000

The Environmental Protection Agency fined US Ecology Inc. almost $500,000 Tuesday for 18 hazardous waste violations at the firm's Nye County disposal facility, about 10 miles south of Beatty.

EPA inspectors linked some violations to a thermal treatment unit that heated contaminated soils like a pizza oven to drive off organic contaminates. On at least two occasions, operators noted the unit was "smoking," causing the release of hazardous compounds into the air.

The company has shut down the thermal treatment unit, said Simon Bell, US Ecology's vice president of operations.

The smoking thermal treatment unit "was a minor component of their concerns," Bell said by telephone from Boise, Idaho. "We certainly don't believe there were any releases to affect human health and the environment. This is a remote desert location."

US Ecology's disposal site near Beatty handles about 100,000 tons of hazardous waste per year. An EPA news release said inspectors noted "six spills, leaks or other uncontrolled PCB discharges" between 2006 and 2008 that weren't reported as required by law.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are toxic, organic pollutants that persist in the environment. They were once widely used in electrical transformers and capacitors but are no longer produced in the United States.

US Ecology was fined $497,982 for 18 counts of hazardous waste violations .

Bell said the EPA's main concern was frequency of air monitoring. He said EPA officials insisted the company conduct continuous monitoring at the site in compliance with the law instead of monitoring for emissions periodically.

"We don't agree with a lot of their allegations but felt it was important to put this matter behind us," Bell said.