Clean & Green

by Katie Lee

Keeping your property clean — and free of EPA fines: Shopping center owners/property managers can take steps to avoid costly EPA violations.

By Peter Tourian

Shopping center owners and property managers have endless responsibilities. They’re responsible for tough hiring decisions, difficult customer service requests, and even rodent problems and plumbing issues. If there’s a difficult and/or dirty situation to handle, it’s clear where the buck stops.

But what about when it comes to the property’s exterior? Sure, annual wear and tear takes its toll, and frequent cleaning is required. Typically, owners and managers rely on staff members to take care of simple cleaning jobs and hire a power washing provider to handle projects that require an expert. If everyone does their job, all is well. If not, staff members face consequences and a new power washing provider can be found. It’s pretty simple, right?

Not so much.

When things go sour with a power washing project, shopping center owners and property managers are left with more than just a shoddy storefront; they’re also responsible for fines of up to $50,000 the U.S.  Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) can levy for Clean Water Act violations.

Don’t think this is serious business? Consider the following:

• Business owners, not the power washing provider, face fines of up to $50,000 a day if the water used in a pressure washing project contains dangerous chemicals or is allowed to contaminate the storm drain system.

• The EPA levied a record number of fines in 2012. The $252 million the EPA collected from civil and criminal penalties last year far exceeded the $168 million collected in 2011.

• The Supreme Court recently validated the EPA’s strict interpretation of the Clean Water Act. In the case of Decker v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Supreme Court voted 6 to 1 to uphold the EPA’s interpretation of its own regulations.

So, considering that, it’s important for shopping center owners and property managers to take full responsibility for who is cleaning their properties and how they’re getting the job done.

Here are questions to ask in order to keep storefront(s) clean and wallets free from debilitating EPA regulation penalties:

1. Are any cleaning agents or products being used? If so, are they biodegradable or environmentally friendly?

Some projects don’t require cleaning agents to get the job done, but many do. It is important to know what agents are being used. Caustic chemicals and bleach are to be avoided. Look for companies that use chemicals that are citric based and therefore biodegradable and environmentally friendly.

2. Do we have the equipment necessary to collect and clean the runoff wastewater after the cleaning process? How do we ensure this wastewater does not enter the environment?

A service provider with a water reclamation system that captures and re-uses wastewater will greatly minimize the risk of EPA violations and other power washing issues. If a power washing provider is being used for the project, ask how they handle water reclamation. If they don’t re-use it, make sure they are disposing of it in a way that is EPA compliant.*

Relying on a power washing expert to complete exterior projects helps alleviate issues with water runoff. While it is possible to complete do-it-yourself power washing projects, it is difficult to avoid violating the Clean Water Act’s runoff policy.

3. Do you or the service provider have adequate insurance coverage, including pollution coverage or wastewater generation coverage?

Few cleaning professionals — and honestly, few power washing providers — possess adequate insurance coverage to avoid the risk of Clean Water Act fines. Many individuals and companies with the best intentions still could be susceptible to a mishap with wastewater reclamation. Cleaning professionals must make sure they or the company they hire has enough insurance coverage in case of a mishap.

4. If you are using a power washing company, are the service provider’s employees contract labor or W2 with workers compensation coverage employees?

Pressure washing can be dangerous, and knowing whether or not the laborers working on the property are covered is important. According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, there were an estimated 5,334 pressure washer-related injuries treated in hospital emergency departments in 2012. Don’t assume an injury can’t happen during the job.

5. If you are using a power washing company, has the company or any of its customers ever been fined as a result of cleaning services?

It’s not enough just to ask for references; cleaning professionals need to discover whether or not the company or its clients have been a target of the EPA. Knowing a company’s history doesn’t ensure that something won’t go wrong on your job, but at least it gives cleaning professionals a good indication of the company’s EPA compliance.

Once satisfied that the pressure washing company uses EPA compliant practices, be sure to have a system in place to verify that the approved equipment is being utilized whenever they are doing jobs for the city. Ask to see the water reclamation hardware and ensure that it’s working properly. Ask questions if something doesn’t look right, and occasionally run spot checks when jobs are being performed to make sure the company has delivered on its promise to keep you out of trouble with the EPA.

* Section 301 of the Clean Water Act (CWA) prohibits a point source discharge of pollutants into waters of the United States without an NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) permit. Due to the fact that many pressure washer operators are mobile, it is not realistic to pre-determine discharge locations and obtain permits for each location. The most common method of compliance with the CWA is to prevent process wastewater discharges to waters of the United States. Examples of compliance without a discharge are vacuuming up the process wastewater or berming the process water and allowing it to evaporate. An additional method of compliance is to discharge the water to an NPDES permitted sanitary sewer system (the municipality may have additional pretreatment requirements before accepting your discharge).

— Peter Tourian is the CEO and founder of Araya Clean Property Services, the first national franchisor of mobile pressure cleaning property service providers. Under Tourian’s leadership the company has experienced record growth, realizing a 36% increase in franchise sales in the first half of 2013.

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