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EPA Fines Vassar College for Violating Hazardous Waste Regulations

Release Date: 11/05/2003
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(#03133) New York, N.Y. – The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it is seeking $97,581 in penalties from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York for violating numerous requirements of federal and New York State hazardous waste regulations. The college must comply with all hazardous waste management requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

“Vassar could have avoided most, if not all of, the penalties for violations of hazardous waste regulations by participating in EPA’s voluntary self-audit program,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. “Participation in the self-audit program helps educational institutions avoid most penalties and learn to better manage their hazardous waste, safeguarding both people and the environment.”

EPA discovered the violations at Vassar during a March 2002 inspection of the college. These violations included improper disposal of several types of waste and chemicals, as well as failure to determine that they were hazardous wastes. In addition, the college did not have a permit to store hazardous waste, and did not meet the protective management requirements needed to be exempt from a permit. Hazardous waste containers were not closed or identified with the required markings; emergency response agencies were not notified of hazardous waste stored at the facility; and the college did not minimize the possibility of fire, explosion or unplanned release of hazardous substances into the environment. No records were kept to document the efficacy of leak detection systems in underground fuel storage tanks, and none of the personnel responsible for hazardous waste management were trained in how to handle it. Finally, the school did not have a hazardous waste emergency response plan. The college has been working to correct the violations. It has 30 days to respond to the complaint.

EPA’s Colleges and Universities Initiative has been in place since 1999, and was established because the Agency found that many institutions of higher learning were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws. As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to 365 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. Through the Agency's voluntary self-audit program, institutions can investigate and disclose violations to EPA and, if the necessary conditions are met, receive a partial or complete reduction in financial penalties.

To date EPA has signed self-audit agreements with five colleges and universities in the region, in which those schools have committed to audit, disclosure and remediation schedules in exchange for the benefits of the voluntary self-audit program. Complaints with penalties totaling $2 million have been levied against 10 colleges and universities, and settlements reached to date total $1.3 million in penalties or supplemental environmental projects. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations and self-audit agreements anticipated.

More information about hazardous waste regulations can be found on EPA’s Web site at: