Posted Online: April 24, 2010, 1:56 am

Reminder: Appliances can't be tossed with the trash

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By Seth Kabala, seth@sethkabala.com

Photo: Seth Kabala
Mike Weikert, left, owner of Weikert Iron and Metal, and driver John Barnard load recycling-bound appliances.
Step away from that freezer!

That's the message Mike Weikert Jr., Rock Island County's new white-goods contractor, has for scavengers, the people who roam city streets looking for items that have been left on public land -- legally abandoned property.

Mr. Weikert, owner of Weikert Iron and Metal, is concerned that scavengers are failing to demanufacture appliances by removing hazardous components before taking them to junkyards. "As long as they get their money for the scrap, that's all they're looking at," Mr. Weikert said.

Mr. Weikert said that during March, 96 of the approximately 275 appliances he was called to pick up were gone by the time he arrived. The numbers: Andalusia, 2; Carbon Cliff, 2; Coal Valley, 10; Cordova, 1; East Moline, 14; Hampton, 2; Milan, 12; Moline, 26; Port Byron, 2; Rock Island, 22; Silvis, 2; Taylor Ridge, 1.

The environmental concerns if refrigerators are improperly disposed of include Freon, PCBs and mercury. "The Freon screws up the ozone," Mr. Weikert said. "And the PCBs that are in a lot of appliances -- that causes cancer. The mercury … everyone kind of knows what the mercury does to the fish."

"This has been a problem for a very long time," said Laura Berkley, staff coordinator with the Rock Island County Waste Management Agency and overseer of the county's white-goods program. "We picked (Weikert) because he's certified with the State of Iowa to demanufacture appliances safely."

Regarding the missing 96 appliances: "We don't know what's happening to those," she said. "We can only assume the worst—that they're not being disposed of properly."

Ordinances in Rock Island, Moline, East Moline and Silvis prohibit the theft of recyclables from containers. But these laws do not expressly prohibit the taking of white goods.

Ms. Berkley has discussed the problem with the Rock Island County Health Department, which registers waste haulers. "They're reviewing their ordinance to see if there's something enforceable," she said, referring to the possibility of regulating who can and cannot legally haul white goods.

Iowa Code states that "All discarded appliances must be demanufactured before being disposed of or recycled." According to the Illinois EPA website, "special waste," which includes hazardous waste, must be handled at a permitted facility. It further states that "companies intending to manage discarded materials by disposing, burning, or incinerating … must receive a permit from the Illinois EPA or the US EPA before conducting these activities."

"We are considering trying to get those who accept white goods to be more vigilant about turning them away if they aren't from Weikert," said Caryn Unsicker, Silvis 4th Ward alderman and the city's representative on the county waste management agency.

"We want people to call our toll-free number for the contractor," Ms. Berkley said. "They're trying very hard to get out as soon as they can."

The toll free white-goods number: (877) 934-5378.

"There are so many appliances that go across the river from over here that junkers go out and pick up, and they run them right over to Rock Island and sell them," Mr. Weikert said, declining to name names.

"There are citizen complaint forms available on the Illinois EPA website for improper disposal or dumping," Ms. Berkley said. "And the more people who fill those out, the more likely the Illinois EPA will respond to it."

"We have suspicions," she said of violators. "But nothing confirmed." However, "There are only so many scrap dealers in the area."

Illegal operators, beware. "Be careful. We're investigating," Ms. Berkley said. "We're talking to the EPA, and we will be contacting people we're having issues with."