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EPA ISSUES ENFORCEMENT COMPLAINTS TO R.I. DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION; ISSUES 1,700 WARNING LETTERS TO PUBLIC OFFICIALS ACROSS NEW ENGLAND
Release Date: 03/30/1998
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, Press Office, (617-918-1008)
BOSTON - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today filed two enforcement complaints against the R.I. Department of Transportation for numerous violations at a DOT facility in downtown Providence near the Woonasquatucket River. The complaints, which include proposed administrative penalties totaling $796,492, allege numerous violations of hazardous waste storage laws and additional violations of the Clean Water Act.
Today's action is part of a stepped up enforcement effort by EPA focusing on public facilities all across New England. An EPA letter, promoting the enforcement campaign and warning public officials to bring their facilities into compliance with environmental laws, was mailed out today to 1,700 public officials, including the governors of the six New England states.
"Government agencies which have not made a real commitment to environmental compliance are taking a significant risk," John P. DeVillars, EPA New England Administrator, wrote in the letter. "EPA is committed to holding public agencies to the same high standards that we all expect of private industry."
The violations in Rhode Island were discovered during a multi-media inspection at the DOT complex, 90 Calverley St., on March 31, 1997. The facility, which covers an entire city block, includes vehicle maintenance facilities, a storage building, offices and a workshop.
The most serious violations involved DOT's improper handling and storage of large amounts of hazardous wastes, much of which was stored illegally on the second-floor of a storage building. EPA inspectors found 938 containers filled with various hazardous materials, including solvents, adhesives, varnish, sealants, paints and paint thinners. Of the 938 containers, 116 were open and 72 were spilled or leaking. Most were also unlabeled. A subsequent investigation revealed that the materials had been stored at the facility illegally since 1995.
EPA investigators also discovered numerous violations of the Clean Water Act, including spill-prevention violations pertaining to petroleum storage as well as actual illegal discharges of oil into the Woonasquactucket River. The enforcement complaint alleges that on April 18 of last year, oil contamination in the river was traced back to a small oil spill - less than a barrel - at the DOT complex. The spill was investigated and confirmed by the U.S. Coast Guard and the R.I. Department of Environmental Management.
"The scope and severity of these violations is very disturbing," DeVillars said. "I'm particularly troubled by the hazardous waste storage problems, which posed a very serious fire hazard to DOT employees as well as emergency response personnel and neighbors. Most of the hazardous waste here was ignitable and many of the containers were open or leaking. Even more shocking, the facility had no fire extinguishers and no fire alarms on the floor where the wastes were stored."
DeVillars said the DOT case is a glaring example why the EPA's New England Office is focusing increased enforcement attention on publicly-owned facilities - local, state and federal - throughout the region.
"Unfortunately, we are finding that that many public agencies do not take their environmental responsibilities seriously," DeVillars said. "We are finding numerous violations of laws designed to ensure clean air and clean waters and to ensure safe handling of hazardous materials."
DeVillars said his office has filed 255 cases against public agencies since 1993 and more cases will be forthcoming as more EPA inspections are done in the coming months.
The vast majority of the proposed penalties against DOT - $777,422 - stem from the hazardous waste violations of the federal Resource Conservation & Recovery Act (RCRA). The RCRA complaint includes 12 counts of violations, the most serious being storage of hazardous waste without a permit. DOT also was cited for failure to: train employees in hazardous waste management; analyze waste before storage; meet requirements for storage of flammable and reactive wastes; and conduct weekly inspections of the containers.
The EPA investigation revealed that DOT received the 938 containers in 1992 from a Watertown, Mass. company. In the summer of 1995, DOT determined that it could not use most of the hazardous material and began researching waste disposal prices. However, DOT did not dispose of the material for nearly two years after determining that the materials were wastes.
The material was subsequently shipped off-site after EPA conducted the inspection and notified DOT of the RCRA violations. The removal work was finished last May.
Manifests confirmed that much of the waste was hazardous, including 19,200 pounds and 610 gallons of ignitable waste paint and paint-related material, six pounds of ignitable organic peroxide and five gallons of corrosive potassium hydroxide.
The second enforcement complaint, seeking an additional $19,070 of penalties, stems from violations of the Clean Water Act. DOT was cited for one count of failing to have a Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan, which is required under the Clean Water Act. The complaint alleges that DOT should have had such a plan - outlining procedures and methods for preventing oil discharges - in 1982. The second count stemmed from the oil discharge on April 18.