EPA Fines U.S. Virgin Islands Health Department for Long Term Chemical Mismanagement

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health violated federal law governing the handling and storage of hazardous waste at two of its facilities and has fined the agency $68,000 for the violations. EPA inspections at the facilities, the Old Municipal Facility in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas and 3500 Estate Richmond, Christiansted in St. Croix, found unlabeled and decaying containers of chemicals and pesticides on the properties. Many of the containers spilled and the USVI Department of Health failed to properly identify what types of waste were being stored. In some instances, the hazardous chemicals had been kept on-site for over ten years in a state of neglect and decay. Among the hundreds of hazardous chemicals on-site were pyrethrin (a neurotoxin), chlorpyrifos (an insecticide) and calcium hypochlorite (a bleach) – all of which are toxic. Federal environmental law requires hazardous chemicals to be stored, handled and disposed of properly to safeguard public health and the environment.

Pesticides and insecticides are intended to harm or kill pests and are toxic by design. They can be very harmful to people’s health depending on the toxicity of the pesticide and the level of exposure. Pesticides have been linked to various forms of illnesses in humans, ranging from skin and eye irritation to cancer. Some pesticides may also affect the hormone or endocrine systems. All chemicals should be handled properly to protect people’s health.

“Pesticides are chemicals that must be handled and stored carefully and properly to protect the health of workers and the people who live near the facilities,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA regional administrator. “In this case, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health repeatedly violated federal hazardous waste laws. Government, especially a health agency, should lead by example and ensure that pesticides and chemicals are properly handled.”

The Department of Health stores pesticide products to be used in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease. Among the violations, the Department of Health failed to determine which substances should be considered hazardous waste, as required by law, to ensure that they are managed properly. Correctly determining whether a waste meets the definition of hazardous waste is essential to determining how the waste must be managed. The Department of Health also failed to maintain and operate its facilities in a manner that minimized the possibility of a fire, explosion or accidental release of chemicals.

In 1998, the Department of Health asked the EPA for help in removing and properly disposing of outdated chemical products stored in one of its chemical storage buildings at the Old Municipal Facility in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas. The EPA responded, removed and properly disposed of the outdated chemicals and pesticides. Over 850 gallons of liquid pesticides and over 1,700 pounds of solid pesticides were removed by the EPA. Subsequently, the EPA strongly recommended that the Department of Health develop and follow pesticide storage and handling regulations to avoid a repeat of the environmental hazard.

In 2008, the EPA conducted an inspection of the St. Thomas facility and also visited 3500 Estate Richmond in St. Croix. Once again, the EPA observed conditions of neglect and sloppy practices. Pesticide products were abandoned and had spilled throughout the facilities. The EPA reiterated the need for the development of and adherence to a pesticide storage and handling program.

On Sept. 30, 2010, the EPA ordered the Department of Health to institute a program to properly manage and dispose of pesticide products. Since the initial order, the department has properly removed all outdated chemicals, conducted an inventory of the remaining chemicals, properly stored them and created a pesticide storage and handling program. The EPA conducted follow-up inspections in 2011 and confirmed that the remaining chemicals were properly stored. In March 2012, the EPA issued its final order in this case, requiring the Department of Health to pay a $68,000 penalty.