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BRIEF: PeaceHealth St. Joseph fined for violation of dangerous waste laws

Washington State Department of Ecology noted a lack of basic prevention measures

The exterior of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center in Bellingham, Wash. on Nov. 15, 2023. PeaceHealth offers a wide range of medical services to the Whatcom community. // Photo by Jenna Millikan

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center received a $21,000 fine from the Washington State Department of Ecology for violating the state’s dangerous waste laws. They had 30 days from Oct. 31 to pay the fine or appeal it at the Pollution Control Hearing Board

Dangerous waste refers to anything “accumulated, used, reused or handled in a manner that poses a threat to public health or the environment,” according to the Washington State Department of Ecology.

PeaceHealth also received a fine in 2018 for violating the dangerous waste regulations, according to the 2023 press release from Washington’s Department of Ecology.

PeaceHealth appeared not to have initiated basic prevention measures, the Department of Ecology said in their Oct. 31 report. This includes training staff to manage waste, inspecting storage areas weekly and making annual reports on waste management.

“We have found that St. Joseph hadn't been doing any of those things,” said Scarlet Tang, the communication manager for the Northwest Office of the Department of Ecology. “Their staff didn't seem to be aware that they should be doing a lot of the basic steps.”

Beverly Mayhew, PeaceHealth’s director of marketing and communications, said the medical center followed all state regulations but lacked proper documentation.

“While these oversights are regrettable, at no time was dangerous medical waste a safety issue at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center,” Mayhew said. “Environmental Services employees have followed and continue to follow all state regulations in the handling of dangerous waste.”

The mismanagement does not mean an immediate danger to the community, said Jennifer Hayden, the environmental health supervisor for solid waste at Whatcom County Health and Community Services Department.

“Certainly, that's not great, but that doesn't necessarily mean somebody's going to have an exposure," Hayden said.

The Department of Ecology recommended that PeaceHealth ensure proper training is completed and documented to prevent future violations.

“There's been a lot of turnover just generally in the workforce,” Tang said. “So we think it's important to have those procedures documented and in a curriculum or in a training manual procedure."

If the fine is not paid or appealed, the potential next step is the penalty getting sent to collections where a third party will be charged with collecting the debts. 

Alternatively, the state Attorney General’s Office may pass judgment on PeaceHealth in Superior Court. This could ensure the penalty is enforced.

Jenna Millikan

Jenna Millikan (she/her) is a city news reporter for The Front this quarter. She is a third-year student majoring in journalism with a minor in political science. When not reporting, she enjoys cheesy movies, reading and drinking too much coffee. 

You can reach her 

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