Legal/Enforcement News

Consent Decree Requires EPA To Set Standards For Hazardous Air Pollution

On Oct. 3, a federal court signed a consent decree that sets deadlines for EPA to draft and approve emission standards for chemical plants and other major sources of hazardous air pollution. This move ends litigation that conservation groups brought against EPA.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia signed the agreement between EPA and the Sierra Club, represented in the lawsuit by Earthjustice, and Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN), represented by the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic.

"We're happy to get this important process started," said Marti Sinclair, chairperson of Sierra Club's National Air Committee. "The court's order will require EPA to look back over its emission standards for some of the worst polluters in the country and then decide whether these standards are good enough."

The lawsuit stemmed from the Clean Air Act's requirement that EPA review its air toxics standards eight years after issuing them. In the review process, EPA must assure that its standards are adequate to protect public health and the environment and also that they reflect the greatest degree of emission reductions that can be achieved.

This consent decree covers EPA's standard for chemical plants, which continue to emit approximately 60,000 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year. It also covers industrial cooling towers, gasoline distribution facilities, commercial sterilizers, magnetic tape production facilities, and halogenated solvent cleaners. Chemical plants alone emit at least 112 of the 188 pollutants that the Clean Air Act lists as "hazardous," the environmental groups stated. The other industrial categories covered by the decree emit a wide range of toxic substances, including benzene, perchloroethylene (PCE), trichloroethylene (TCE), carbon tetrachloride, methylene chloride, and ethylene oxide.

The consent decree can be accessed at http://www.earthjustice.org/news/documents/10-05/2003_deadlines_consent_decree.pdf.

EPA Cites Puerto Rico University

EPA announced on Oct. 5 that it cited the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in Mayaguez for violating federal environmental laws governing the handling of hazardous waste, discharges into waterways and emissions of hazardous pollutants into the air. EPA has proposed that the university pay nearly $1 million in penalties for these violations.

The agency also issued orders putting the school on schedules to fix the problems as soon as possible and reduce the risk of potentially harmful materials being released into the environment at the campus.

"Almost 15,000 people study, teach and work on the Mayaguez campus. Universities should set an example for environmental compliance, since these institutions are preparing the future professionals of our society," EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said. "The university will pay a substantial penalty for the many serious violations we uncovered in Mayaguez, but first, we will see to it that imminent and potential threats are eliminated safely and quickly."

In July, EPA supervised the removal and controlled on-site neutralization of several containers of solidified picric acid, an extremely shock-sensitive material that government inspectors found in the chemical warehouse on campus. This was just one example of dangerous situations on the campus involving chemicals that required immediate attention.

"EPA's investigation continues and there will be additional enforcement actions if required. We are staying on top of this to make sure the university does what it needs to do to protect the people on campus," Steinberg said.

UPR at Mayaguez submitted self-disclosures under EPA's Audit Policy whereby the university self-disclosed possible violations of federal hazardous waste, clean water and clean air laws. Normally, EPA would grant relief from financial penalties for self-disclosed violations, but it was determined that UPR was not eligible for full relief because UPR was not correcting all its violations. As a result, EPA conducted its own comprehensive inspection of the campus, with the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, and found numerous violations.

EPA and the Commonwealth found that UPR Mayaguez failed to operate its facility in a manner that would minimize the risk of releasing hazardous wastes into the environment. It was storing containers of hazardous waste in several buildings and open areas on campus that were leaking, open or mislabeled. The containers held wastes ranging from used oil, various acids and spent solvents to formaldehyde. UPR also was storing hundreds of containers of old and expired chemicals, such as picric acid, in an unsafe manner. The investigation determined that the university also had failed to properly determine which of the wastes they generate are hazardous wastes.

The school never put plans into place with local emergency response managers to respond to a chemical spill or incident on campus. In addition, UPR didn't comply with the conditions and regulations necessary to qualify for permit exemptions.

EPA is proposing a $908,000 fine for these violations. The agency has ordered UPR to fix leaking containers, place wastes in closed containers, properly label and store wastes and put into place a plan with local emergency response managers within 10 days. EPA has given the university one month to set up a system to determine which wastes it generates campus wide are hazardous and to ship these off campus for proper disposal in a timely manner. Also, under the order, UPR has three months to obtain permits to accumulate and store hazardous waste, or alternatively, to meet the conditions for an exemption from permit requirements.

Inspections also found that UPR's poor management practices had resulted in spills and leaks inside the chlorine gas storage and distribution building in the main swimming pool area on the campus, where the school stores between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds of chlorine gas. As part of an order under the Clean Air Act, the university has 60 days to submit to EPA an assessment of this chlorine gas storage and distribution system, including tests to detect leaks, within 60 days. Potential penalties for violating the terms of the order are $32,500 per day.

Federal and Puerto Rican inspectors also found that the sanitary sewage pump station at the Mayaguez campus has frequently been discharging untreated sewage into nearby Oro Creek without a permit. EPA has ordered UPR to bring the sanitary sewer system into compliance with Clean Water Act regulations and proposed a penalty of $10,000.

EPA has inspected 58 colleges and universities and has issued administrative complaints with penalties totaling more than $2.6 million over the past four years against 20 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations anticipated.

As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico; held free workshops to help colleges and universities comply; set up a Web site that provides information about their duties under the law; and warned them that EPA inspections of their facilities -- with the risk of financial penalties -- were imminent.

More information on EPA's Voluntary Audit Policy is available at http://www.epa.gov/region02/capp/cip. The Web site for the Colleges and Universities Initiative is http://www.epa.gov/region02/p2/college.

EPA Fines Azusa, Calif., Plastics Firm $150,000 For Air Violations

As part of a recent settlement with EPA, Advance Foam Plastics Inc., a manufacturer of expanded polystyrene foam, will pay $150,000 for air pollution violations, at its Azusa, Calif., facility, the agency announced on Oct. 5.

Under the terms of this settlement, Advance Foam Plastics Inc. has terminated manufacturing operations, surrendered its South Coast Air Quality Management District permit to operate and will pay the penalty.

"Companies like Advance Foam Plastics must comply with all Clean Air Act emission rules to prevent volatile organic compounds from contributing to air pollution," said Deborah Jordan, the EPA's Air Division director for the Pacific Southwest region. "Emissions from the polystyrene manufacturing process must be controlled, captured and reduced to protect air quality."

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, which has jurisdiction over air permits in the Los Angeles Basin, requires that manufacturing and storage emissions be limited to no more than 2.4 lbs of volatile organic compounds per 100 lbs of raw materials used in the process or be controlled through the use of an adequate air pollution control device. Advance Foam Plastics, which produces expanded polystyrene foam used in the building industry, failed to demonstrate that the emissions were below the emission limit and failed to demonstrate that its air pollution control device was adequate.

More information on the EPA's Air Office can be found at http://www.epa.gov/region09/air/index.html.

This article originally appeared in the 10/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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