City warns businesses about disposing waste

PRESCOTT - In the wake of an incident that had flames coming out of the back of a garbage truck, the city recently took a first step toward clamping down on the materials that businesses place in their trash Dumpsters.

But along the way, an initial warning letter caused some confusion among business owners and ultimately could lead to revisions in the city code.

In mid-June, hundreds of business owners received letters from the city's code enforcement department, cautioning them about materials that are illegal in city Dumpsters.

For instance, the letter warned against using Dumpsters to dispose of hazardous materials, such as petroleum-derived oil, liquid paint, hazardous chemicals and pesticides, tires, and medical waste.

Officials say hazardous liquids are especially dangerous, because they can lead to fires such as the one the occurred in a city garbage truck in early June.

Chad McDowell, field operations manager for the city, reported that a business owner apparently disposed of paint thinner in a city dumpster. When a garbage truck later picked up trash from the Dumpster, McDowell said a spark from the truck appeared to have ignited the paint thinner.

The driver - after seeing flames coming from the back of his truck - ended up dumping the load of garbage in a city street, where crews later put out the fire.

That incident, along with another in which a restaurant owner reportedly disposed of about 20 gallons of grease from a fryer in a Dumpster, caused the city to take a tougher stance on its enforcement.

McDowell said the fryer grease ended up leaking out of the truck and causing an oil spill in front of another business.

"We wanted to get the awareness out there," McDowell said. While the June 19 letter was a "courtesy notice," he said future violations would lead to enforcement action by the city.

But some of the wording in the letter led to more questions than answers for the businesses that received them.

Under the section for "wet garbage," the code listed a number of "unlawful" materials, including "all liquid refuse from kitchens, residences, schools, business houses and other places where meat, fish, fruit or other vegetables are prepared for food..."

Along with decayed or unsound fruits, the code also lists materials that "have resulted from the preparation of food; including all empty food containers, bottles, cans or wrappings and all waste materials that may attract animals or flies."

While that description seems to apply to most cooking waste, McDowell, Code Enforcement Supervisor Tim Kittel, and Chief Assistant City Attorney Tom Lloyd all emphasize that the city was targeting mainly hazardous materials and grease.

"The big thing we wanted to get were the liquids - the grease, the paint thinners, the turpentines," McDowell said.

Lloyd was uncertain why the code lists all of the other materials, such as empty food containers and wrappings.

"At this time, it's not entirely clear why that's there," he said. "Sometimes, when things get amended and changed, we don't think about how it could affect another part (of the code). This may be a remnant from a prior revision."

The resulting confusion likely will lead to a future adjustment in the wording, Lloyd said.

"Absolutely - we all recognize that this is not entirely clear," he said.

Although he was uncertain about when the changes might occur, Lloyd said they likely would come from the city's Field Operations Department in conjunction with work with the Engineering Services Department on new drainage standards.

Contact the reporter at cbarks@prescottaz.com