Lacey business owner challenges $197.000 DOE fine along with the agency’s case findings
After the state Department of Ecology announced they were fining a Lacey business called Seasoft Scuba for dumping hazardous waste, founder and owner Bruce Justinen said angry emails began to pour in from customers. He also was nearly evicted by his landlord.
Not only were customers angry, but so was Justinen, who took issue with what he called the ”half-truths and untruths” in an Ecology news announcement about the $197,000 fine. He says he plans to appeal it.
Justinen, 62, spelled out his concerns in a seven-page statement that he read aloud to an Olympian reporter and photographer who agreed to meet with him last week. Perhaps chief among his concerns: Information that the business had been cleaned, employees tested and that he had ceased using reclaimed lead was largely left out of the news release.
“Are you changing the third to last paragraph?” Justinen said in one of his emails to Ecology. “It is grossly misleading when you now know that all of the employees tested as having acceptable levels of lead in their bloodstream. I can email you these results. All you have to do is ask for them before this goes out.”
Justinen also said the fine came as a shock, and that he was given only about an hour to supply a statement for inclusion in the news release. Ecology officials say he was given ample time to respond, but that he waited too long, and that some of the information he supplied could not be confirmed, so it wasn’t used.
Justinen disputes that information couldn’t be confirmed.
Ecology spokesman Dave Bennett said Justinen had 24 hours to review the release and offer a statement. After waiting 22 hours, Bennett said he heard from Justinen and used some of what was provided, but not parts that could not be confirmed at the time. Bennett said they agreed on part of it.
“We moved forward,” Bennett said Thursday.
Ecology officials stand by their process, saying they responded to an anonymous tip (Justinen thinks it came from a summer intern), assigned it to the appropriate department, and they visited his Lacey location at 8249 28th Ct. NE in late June. Ecology officials also appeared at a follow-up visit at the business, along with the state Department of Labor & Industries, said Ava Edmonson, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction section manager for Ecology’s Southwest Regional Office.
L&I spokesman Tim Church couldn’t speak to the specifics of the inspection of Seasoft Scuba because it is not complete. Once it is, which could be later this month or early next year, the agency will release a final citation and notice whether there’s a penalty or not, he said.
Church said the agency acted on a referral about employees exposed to lead.
About the business
Seasoft Scuba is a 35-year-old business that got its start in British Columbia, spent most of its history in Auburn, and the last three years in Hawks Prairie. The business sells a variety of diving products, including diving weights and dry suits. Seventy-five percent of its products are manufactured here, Justinen said.
Ecology says the hazardous waste was created by removing corrosion from reclaimed lead shot for those weights.
“Wastewater from the process became a toxic slurry of lead and arsenic,” the news release reads.
Justinen acknowledges there were mistakes. Every summer he goes on a road trip to meet customers, and when he’s away, employees don’t necessarily clean like they’re supposed to when he’s there, he said.
Justinen was in New Mexico when Ecology and L&I showed up.
He also acknowledges that lead dust was found in the business, but it was not on all surfaces and not all of it was at unsafe levels. There also was waste found outside, but nothing that fits the term “illegal dumping,” Justinen contends. He said what was found was inadvertent, not intentional.
The potential $197,000 fine is only the latest financial challenge for Seasoft Scuba. The business sought bankruptcy protection three years ago and money was stolen from the business in 2015-16, according to emails sent to The Olympian.
The business also was previously fined by L&I when it was based in Auburn, Justinen said. The fine was $9,000, but after an appeal, Justinen said he didn’t wind up paying anything.
More state action
Ecology spokesman Bennett said the agency also has received a tip about hazardous waste being taken to Justinen’s home in Thurston County. Ecology’s toxic cleanup program sent him three certified letters seeking more information, but they didn’t get a response.
Justinen said he was not aware of the letters.
However, he was aware of employees who tried to dispose of waste at the Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center HazoHouse. When they were told they couldn’t, his employees panicked and took the waste to his house, he said.
Bennett said a letter was mailed Wednesday stating Justinen’s residence has been added to a confirmed and suspected contaminated sites list. The business property also is listed as a cleanup site.
Based on what Ecology found over the summer and the previous fine in Auburn, Bennett called the Seasoft Scuba violations “serial in nature.”