UP IN SMOKE Police Departments from across the Northwest Use Spokane's Waste-to-Energy Plant to Dispose of Confiscated Drugs and Guns

By Francovich, Eli | The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA), December 18, 2016 | Go to article overview

UP IN SMOKE Police Departments from across the Northwest Use Spokane's Waste-to-Energy Plant to Dispose of Confiscated Drugs and Guns


Francovich, Eli, The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)


On an early afternoon in November 2015, Spokane Police Department officers incinerated 1,000 pounds of confiscated drugs and guns at Spokane's Waste-to-Energy Plant.

The list of 959 items delivered to the West Plains incinerator is coldly intimate, each one cross-referenced with a case number and briefly described.

"Two greeting cards and envelopes, possible narcotic on glue of envelope," reads one description. "Ellen's prescription medications," reads another, according to logs of items delivered that day obtained by The Spokesman-Review through a records request. Other items collected by police and sent to Spokane for disposal, according to a different day's record: "successful suicidal's prescription medications," and, "one clear plastic bag with Batman logo containing four small orange round tablets with 'A 14' inscribed."

Police departments from across Washington, Idaho and Oregon use Spokane's incinerator to dispose of confiscated drugs and guns, a practice that's been going on since 2005. The facility's twin boilers, operating at 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, turn illicit goods to smoke that's rendered harmless by the plant's state-of-the-art filtration system.

In addition to drugs, the facility burns other materials that need to be destroyed quickly and securely, including recalled food, Antarctic waste and recalled Ikea furniture.

"The key is there is assured destruction," said Kelle Vigeland, Spokane's solid waste environmental manager.

In 2015, the Waste-to-Energy Plant incinerated 61.59 tons, or 123,180 pounds, of illicit drugs, pharmaceuticals and guns. On average, the facility burns 900 tons of material every day.

In addition to the Spokane Police Department, the Seattle Police Department, the Washington State Patrol and smaller departments, like the Cheney Police Department and the Coeur d'Alene Police Department, incinerate drugs and guns in Spokane.

The Washington State Patrol also destroys guns and drugs at a Vancouver metal foundry.

There are only a handful of waste-to-energy plants in the West - including one in Oregon and two in California - which is why Spokane receives drugs from police departments as far flung as Pendleton, Oregon.

In May 2015, that police department incinerated a load of narcotics and guns weighing 400 pounds at the Spokane facility.

April Westby, environmental engineer for the Spokane Regional Clean Air Agency, receives a report every six months from the Waste- to-Energy facility detailing "Special Handling Loads."

The use is not controversial. There's no more environmental impact or public health concern over burning items such as a, "large hockey bag containing 23 vacuum-seal bags of marijuana" than there is any other kind of waste, Westby said.

"I don't think it's so different from the typical type of waste," she said. …

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