Repercussions from EPA’s surprise campus inspections

Nov 18, 2015 by

Fines for corrective actions outweigh money saved by cutting corners

By Tara García Mathewson –

Just last month, the Environmental Protection Agency fined the University of Missouri at Kansas City almost $33,000 related to its storage and handling of hazardous waste. In 2011 Drew University in Madison, N.J., agreed to pay $145,000 for its own violations. The EPA asked for $238,000 from the Maine Community College System in 2004, and it fined Columbia University nearly $800,000 in 2002.

Mike Rozembajgier, vice president of sales and marketing at Stericycle Environmental Solutions, estimates there are minor haz mat incidents on college and university campuses as often as every single day.

“There are just things within these institutions that could become dangerous,” Rozembajgier said. “Things are happening, whether it’s leaks or spills or explosions.”

Colleges and universities are obligated to properly store and dispose of hazardous materials because of EPA regulations. The agency conducts surprise inspections on college campuses to do spot checks for compliance. Besides the regulatory obligations, higher education institutions also have a responsibility to the environment and the people they serve to manage these materials in a safe way. But with tight budgets on campuses across the country, some schools may look to find savings in the resources invested in such safety measures.

Rozembajgier, partial as he may be, suggests otherwise.

Besides the environmental and safety considerations related to hazardous materials management, Rozembajgier adds the threat to a school’s brand for failing to act or cutting resources that once guaranteed proper disposal.

“There’s value in doing the right thing,” Rozembajgier said. Schools do not want to be in the headlines for the wrong reasons, i.e. EPA violations. And EPA action comes with fines.

Columbia University’s violation in 2002 is one of the largest in the last 15 years, relating to hazardous waste. Out of the total fine, $584,148 was the direct result of charges that Columbia “failed to minimize the risk of fire, explosion, and/or the release of hazardous chemicals into the environment.” Columbia was also cited because it did not have an adequate hazardous waste contingency plan or keep records proving it had staff on hand to implement the plan.

Colleges and universities, especially those that conduct a significant amount of laboratory research, have hazardous materials on campus. Institutions are responsible for providing adequate training to anyone handling those materials or being tasked with disposing of them. Many schools create their own plans and have some type of internal capacity when it comes to storing them, but when it comes to actual disposal, colleges and universities often contract out the work.

Schools are bound by EPA regulations when the hazardous materials are on their campuses and by Department of Transportation regulations when they’re on their way to disposal sites.

While haz mat response teams can address an issue any time of the day or night, waiting to create or improve an institutional plan until an emergency prompts it is less than ideal. Outside companies can do a site visit and point out any potential issues before the EPA starts discussing official violations and their accompanying fines.

Bottom line: money saved by cutting corners on prevention could end up going into corrective action.

Source: Repercussions from EPA’s surprise campus inspections | Education Dive

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