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Honey Buckets Not So Sweet: Lawsuit Over Odors Certified as Class Action

If you read the name Honey Bucket and first thought of Winnie the Pooh or fried chicken, I have some foul smelling news for you. Honey Buckets are actually portable toilets, the stench from which some neighbors in Pacific, Washington are not too pleased with.

"Hazardous odors, gases, fumes, and contaminants have been and are being released from the Honey Bucket Facility property," their lawsuit claims, "interfering with the use and enjoyment of the Plaintiff's and the Class Members' properties, have substantially impaired the value of their properties, and have caused adverse personal impacts such as annoyance, irritation, discomfort, and other similar physical ailments." That lawsuit was certified as a class action this week, allowing more neighbors to join the case.

Class Is in Session

Class action lawsuits allow similarly aggrieved or injured people to sue a defendant as a group, rather than individually. Class actions are most common in response defective products, including pharmaceutical drugs, motor vehicles and other consumer products, or environmental torts based on illnesses or diseases linked to toxic production facilities or pollution. By pooling all of the potential plaintiffs into one case, courts can settle the matter more definitively and cut down on costly litigation.

But filing a lawsuit as a class action doesn't necessarily make it so -- a court has to "certify" the class, and there are four basic requirements for certification:

  1. The class must be so numerous that it would be impossible for each class member to be an active participant in the case;
  2. There must be questions of law or fact common to the class;
  3. The claims of the representative parties must be typical of the claims of the class; and
  4. The representative parties must be able to fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class.

This Case Stinks

The Seattle Times described the Honey Bucket system:

Vacuum pumper trucks suck the contents of the Honey Buckets, wherever they are located, and transport the waste to the property in Pacific, south of Auburn. The sewage is pressed into biosolids that are used for agriculture and landscaping. The remaining partially treated wastewater is sent through the King County Metro Wastewater Treatment system. The toilets are hauled to the Pacific facility, power washed and stored there until needed again.

People living near the Pacific facility claim that ever since the plant expanded in 2014, the neighborhood reeks of sewage. "It's a homeowner's worst nightmare," Samantha Niemi, who bought a house about 300 feet from the future Honey Bucket property in 2011 and is a named plaintiff in the suit, told the Seattle Times.

In 2016, the City of Pacific ordered the company to cease operations for violating its permit, which prohibits the emission of obnoxious odors. But Northwest Cascade, the company operating as Honey Buckets, appealed, and the city delayed enforcing the closure. Later that same year, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency issued a notice of violation against Northwest Cascade for using a masking agent to hide the emission of an air contaminant.

The class action is asking for an injunction against the Pacific facility as well as damages, including the loss in property value.

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