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EPA Cites Puerto Rico University at MayagŁez For Multiple Violations of Environmental Safety Rules

Release Date: 10/5/2005
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For Release: Wednesday, October 5, 2005

(#05111) NEW YORK -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cited the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) in MayagŁez 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. EPA 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 MayagŁez 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 MayagŁez , 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," Mr. Steinberg added.

UPR at MayagŁez 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 MayagŁez 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 an 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 was also 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. The Agency is proposing a $908,000 fine for these violations. EPA 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.

The joint EPA and Commonwealth 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 Commonwealth inspectors also found that the sanitary sewage pump station at the MayagŁez 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 The Web site for the Colleges and Universities Initiative is