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EPA Launches Compliance Initiative Aimed at New England Universities

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For immediate release: March 15, 1999; Release # 99-3-16; The settlement of the UNH violations was announced January 7, 2000.


BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's New England office today launched a multifaceted effort designed to bring all New England colleges and universities into compliance with federal environmental laws. The effort includes extensive compliance assistance activities, including workshops and training manuals, as well as a targeted enforcement sweep of selected New England campuses beginning later this spring.

As part of this campaign, EPA also announced a significant enforcement action against the University of New Hampshire (UNH) containing 15 separate counts of violations of state and federal hazardous waste management laws and a proposed penalty of $308,000.

In letters to the presidents of all 258 of New England's colleges and universities, EPA announced that the agency's university strategy will have two key elements:

  • Workshops, training manuals, technical assistance and other tools to help universities improve their environmental performance.
  • A special deployment of EPA enforcement field inspectors beginning this spring to concentrate on New England colleges and universities.

Many of the facilities on university campuses, including labs, power plants and vehicle maintenance facilities, have the potential to cause serious environmental and public health problems if they are not properly managed.

In his letter to college and university presidents, EPA's New England Administrator John P. DeVillars made it clear that colleges and universities will be held to the same standards as private industry. "Responsible businesses learned long ago that good environmental performance is a sound business practice," DeVillars said. "It is a sound practice for a university as well."

In his letter, DeVillars stressed EPA's commitment to helping universities come into compliance with state and federal environmental laws. This month, EPA will initiate a special effort focused on higher education institutions through its New England Environmental Assistance Team. DeVillars has invited university officials to take advantage of this effort by attending the first workshop focused on environmental compliance at colleges and universities, which EPA is cosponsoring on March 24 with the Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health.

"EPA is devoting significant resources to ensure that colleges and universities meet their responsibilities," said DeVillars in the letter. "We feel we have an obligation to help colleges and universities to comply with environmental requirements, as well as to hold them accountable when they don't."

The all-day March 24 workshop, which will be held at Harvard Medical School, will address compliance issues universities face on a daily basis. EPA staff and environmental and safety officials from colleges and universities will offer their perspectives on environmental compliance.

The workshop will address how universities and colleges can save money through sound environmental practices.

"Sound environmental management can actually help hold down tuition and fee increases and help create an image for higher education institutions that applicants find desirable," DeVillars said.

A report released in March 1998 by the National Wildlife Federation, entitled "Green Investment Green Return: How Practical Conservation Projects Save Millions on American's Campuses," highlights how 15 post-secondary institutions realized savings of $16.8 million through 23 cost saving conservation measures. This report will be part of the focus of the workshop at Harvard.

As part of its effort to bring institutions into compliance, EPA has also provided funding for "Green Campus" projects at two community colleges. These projects, coordinated by the Northeast Partnership for Environmental Technology Education, give colleges the opportunity to promote and conduct business on campus in a more environmentally safe manner, while giving environmental technology students real world experience in conducting environmental audits, evaluating compliance status and identifying pollution prevention opportunities.

The proposed penalty at UNH stems from a July 1997 three-day inspection that found violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at various UNH laboratories and storage facilities in Durham, New Hampshire.

Some of the university's violations, such as storing incompatible hazardous wastes near each other without any means of separation, could have resulted in fires or explosions. Other violations, such as pouring treated mercury waste down a drain without first ensuring that the waste was treated to proper standards, could have resulted in the improper release of hazardous waste. The university also left outside and in unsecured locations large stockpiles of used fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury above regulatory limits.

"We are pleased that since EPA's inspection, UNH has taken steps to improve its operations. The careless treatment and storage of hazardous wastes was unacceptable," said DeVillars. "Other university leaders across New England should see this as a warning that environmental violations will not be allowed on their campuses, but also as an invitation to work with us."

UNH is the third university in New England to be hit with an enforcement action in the last four years, and EPA is working on actions against other universities that have violated environmental laws. EPA's New England Office has also taken actions against Yale University and Boston University (BU) for violations of hazardous waste management laws and the Clean Water Act.

Yale paid a $69,570 fine in 1995 after being cited for mishandling and mislabeling hazardous chemicals the previous year. As a result of the enforcement action, the school also agreed to invest $279,000 in environmental programs on campus and in New Haven. BU, inspected in 1996, reached a settlement with EPA in October 1997 in which the school agreed to pay a $253,000 cash penalty, invest $500,000 on environmental projects and conduct a comprehensive environmental compliance audit. It was the largest enforcement action ever against an institution of higher learning.

UNH generates hazardous waste in its research and teaching laboratories, printing facilities, building and fleet maintenance facilities, and art studio, according to EPA. The violations were an indication that at the time of the inspection the university was not putting enough resources into meeting its environmental obligations. The agency said that there was only one person at the university who was responsible for managing hazardous waste.

In addition to the other violations, inspectors found that UNH had not adequately performed hazardous waste training, conducted inspections of hazardous waste storage areas or labeled and dated containers. UNH also violated federal law by storing hazardous wastes for more than 90 days without a permit and treating hazardous waste without a permit.

EPA is encouraging universities to conduct voluntary environmental audits. Those that voluntarily discover, disclose and quickly correct violations of environmental laws may see the penalties substantially reduced as a result, DeVillars said.

"We have found that some educational institutions don't take their environmental obligations as seriously as they should," DeVillars said in the letter. "It is important that institutions of higher learning set an example for their students and the communities of which they are a part."


revised 03/16/99

United States Environmental Protection Agency - Region 1, New England
Serving Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.