Legislative auditors say there are too many businesses with hazardous materials in Nevada that are not getting mandatory permits.
But Carson Fire Chief Stacey Giomi says it’s much less of a problem in Carson City than in rural parts of the state.
According to the audit report issued Tuesday, 43 percent of the 3,895 businesses surveyed were operating without a state permit. At $150 a permit, auditors say that is costing the state an estimated $250,000 a year.
The state permits record the different chemicals a business has on hand and spell out safety requirements including how they must be stored. Keeping the database ensures emergency crews know what they are getting into if they have to go to one of those businesses.
The problem of permits is especially acute in certain industries. Auditors say 90 percent of dry cleaners that do the cleaning on premises were operating without the required permits. For skilled nursing facilities, the report says, 82 percent were without permits. Other problem businesses include auto, boat and aircraft maintenance and repair shops, gas stations and such things as welding shops, paint stores and propane companies.
But there also are businesses on the list that most people wouldn’t think needed a hazardous materials permit such as golf courses, hospitals and casinos.
Giomi said Carson City is in better shape than most of the state in large part because the capital has a business license requirement. Most rural counties don’t have a requirement.
“They can’t open for business until they get a business license and they can’t do that until we drive by and inspect,” Giomi said.
He said Carson City also has the advantage of being geographically compact, making it easier to keep tabs on businesses.
“The problem the fire marshal has is that they are responsible for covering a great deal of the state and if a new business that requires a hazardous materials permit pops up in the middle of Nevada, how are they going to know that,” he said.
Giomi said when he first heard about the audit, he and his staff went back and took a good look at the process.
He said Carson City has been doing inspections of new businesses but didn’t necessarily direct the business owners to get a state permit in all cases.
“It’s not that we weren’t in the businesses,” he said. “They are inspected. It’s that, maybe, we didn’t in all instances go back and say you need to get your state permit.”
He pointed out that, while Carson City, Washoe and Clark counties are responsible for enforcing the requirement, they don’t actually issue the permits, the state does. In the rest of the state, the fire marshal has enforcement authority.
Giomi said his inspectors focus on education rather than enforcement because in most cases, businessmen aren’t trying to cheat the system, they just don’t know the requirements.
“It really is a matter of educating people,” he said.