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Release Date: 04/26/2002
Contact Information: Samantha Martin, U.S. Attorney's Press Office (617) 748-3139 Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Ofice (617-918-1008)

Boston, MA - United States Attorney Michael J. Sullivan and Robert W. Varney, Regional Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency's New England Office, today announced that the United States has reached a settlement with a Boston trash hauler, Waste Management of Massachusetts Inc. which resolves the government's claims that Waste Management violated the Clean Air Act. The proposed Consent Decree requires the company to pay a $775,000 civil penalty and spend $2.6 million on environmental projects that will improve Boston's air quality and revitalize public waterfront property on Chelsea Creek in East Boston. A civil complaint was also filed simultaneously with the Consent Decree.

The settlement stems from violations of provisions of the Clean Air Act that are intended to protect the stratospheric ozone layer from the harmful effects of certain chemicals, known as chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydro chlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs). These chemicals, commonly found in coolants, are known to cause the depletion of the stratospheric ozone layer, which protects the earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet radiation. Under EPA regulations, waste haulers who dispose of household appliances which may contain CFCs or HCFCs, including refrigerators, freezers, and air conditioners, must take steps to ensure that these chemicals are not released to the atmosphere.

According to the civil complaint, between July 1997 and July 1998, Waste Management used hydraulic packer trucks to pick up and load appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners during curbside trash pickup operations in Boston. The appliances were crushed in the packer trucks, resulting in the probable release of ozone-depleting refrigerants in the process. Upon discovering this illegal practice in 1998, EPA ordered the company to stop crushing appliances and to handle them properly. Since then Waste Management has made separate trips with flat bed trucks to pick up discarded appliances in Boston.

U.S. Attorney Sullivan applauded the settlement, stating: "This office is committed to enforcing all environmental statutes that protect our land, water and air and the Clean Air Act is an important tool in preventing further ozone depletion through the mis-handling of CFC's and HCFC's. The Earth's ozone layer is essential to protecting us all from harmful solar rays that can cause skin cancer. This case should serve as a warning to waste haulers across the country that strict compliance with the ozone protection requirements is expected."

In addition to requiring payment of a substantial civil penalty, the Consent Decree requires Waste Management to implement a $1.4 million project to reduce diesel pollution from 200 Boston school buses, and a $1.2 million project to create parkland on a 4 -acre site on Chelsea Creek.

Under the school bus project, beginning next fall all 200 school buses at the city's Readville bus depot will be fueled with ultra low-sulfur diesel fuel and 100 of these will be fitted with special pollution control devices. The work, which still needs final approval from the Boston School Committee, will be one of the largest school bus retrofit efforts in the nation.

The city of Boston has already taken great strides to reduce pollution from their school buses by purchasing newer buses and carefully maintaining the entire fleet. Buses that are retrofitted with pollution controls will be 90 percent cleaner than they are today. As a result of this project, these 100 buses will vastly exceed national emission standards. These clean buses will serve Boston neighborhoods, including Roxbury, Dorchester and Mattapan where asthma rates are as much as 178 percent higher than the state average and are the leading cause of childhood emergency hospitalizations. And, because diesel buses last a long time, the benefits of this project will accrue for many years.

"The communities that benefit from this project have some of the highest asthma rates in the state," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "This project turns an environmental infraction into a tremendous gain for thousands of Boston school children."

The combination of retrofits and ultra low-sulfur fuel will eliminate an estimated 540 lbs of diesel particulate matter, 2,480 lbs of smog-causing hydrocarbons and 17,380 lbs of carbon monoxide air pollution each year. Diesel exhaust can aggravate asthma and cause lung cancer and premature death.

Recent studies have found a strong correlation between exposure to diesel exhaust and impaired lung growth in children. In a study released in February 2002, researchers from Yale University in conjunction with Environment and Human Health Inc. found that children riding on school buses are exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust.

The Chelsea Creek project calls for Waste Management to spend $1.2 million to restore the Condor Street Urban Wild in East Boston. This waterfront park will be the first public access point to the Chelsea Creek. Citizens in East Boston have been advocating for a park along the creek since 1975. In 1979, the City of Boston purchased the land along the waterfront with the intent of creating a passive recreational area. Due to contamination, the city has been unable to revitalize the site. The Chelsea Creek is the most polluted tributary to the Boston Harbor and is the second most polluted body of water in Massachusetts. With the work from the enforcement settlement and an additional $400,000 from the city, the Chelsea Creek Action Group expects the park to be completed in 2003.

The case was handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney George Henderson in Sullivan's Civil Division and Thomas Olivier, EPA Regional Counsel.

Press Contacts: Samantha Martin, U.S. Attorney's Press Office (617) 748-3139
Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617) 918-1008