Contact Us


All News Releases By Date


EPA Tells Energy to Shape Up Environmental Compliance at the Hanford Reservation

Release Date: 2/11/1999
Contact Information: Bob Jacobson
(206) 553-1203 or (800) 424-4372

February 11, 1999 - - - - - - - - - - - - 99-5


The U.S. Department of Energy needs to shape up its environmental compliance at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, according to a letter accompanying a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency complaint sent today to Energy alleging violations of a federal statute regulating the management of hazardous waste.

The complaint, which calls for payment of $367,078 in civil penalties, is based on findings made during an inspection of environmental practices last year at Hanford.
The complaint and the accompanying letter were signed by Mike Bussell, director of the Office of Chemical and Waste Management at EPA’s regional headquarters in Seattle.

"The inspection reaffirmed previous indications that the Department of Energy and its contractors at Hanford are still not exercising the degree of control needed to protect the environment," Bussell said. "EPA is troubled not only by what we found last year, but also by previous instances of non-compliance with environmental regulations."

"It would appear that environmental management needs to be tightened considerably at the Hanford Reservation."

There are three counts in the EPA complaint, said Bussell, each a violation of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the statute that regulates the management of hazardous waste.
  • Storage of dangerous waste without a permit
      Seventeen drums containing solvents were found in an area of the reservation where they had been stored outdoors, some of the drums for almost three years. The storage area did not have a permit, and did not comply with rules for keeping spilled material within the storage area. Proposed penalty.....................$332,703
  • Failure to make a dangerous waste determination
      Two one-gallon containers of waste had not been identified as hazardous wastes requiring handling under Resource Conservation and Recovery Act regulations. Although the quantity was small, the violation was considered a significant deviation from the laws’s requirements. Proposed penalty........................$7,150
  • Failure to have an up-to-date contingency plan
      At a building serving as the receipt and distribution center for the tank farms in the 200 Area of the reservation, the contingency plan for emergencies bore markings indicating it was out of date and had been suspended. It was not clear from the plan what should be done in an emergency. Proposed penalty.................$27,225
Bussell said that Energy’s failure to make a hazardous waste determination was the violation that gave EPA the most concern because of Hanford’s history of non-compliance with that requirement.

"You cannot properly manage hazardous wastes unless you know that it is hazardous," Bussell said. "Making that determination is crucial for protecting the environment: once you know what you’re dealing with, only then is it possible to store it safely and to make meaningful contingency plans in case of a fire, explosion or other accident."

With the complaint, EPA ordered Energy to close the illegal storage area where the 17 drums were kept. The drums have already been removed. Failure to close the storage area, as required by EPA regulations, could cost Energy up to $27,500 a day.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act was not the only law within the scope of the inspection last May, June and July at the Hanford Reservation.

Bussell explained that the inspection was a "multi-media" examination of Hanford performed by personnel from EPA, the Washington Department of Ecology and the Washington Department of Health. Inspectors looked at all environmental media -- soil, water, air --- that could be affected by contaminants regulated by several state and federal regulatory statutes.

Bussell said the inspection included checking for compliance with regulations under the federal Toxic Substances and Control Act (TSCA). Although 10 violations were found, one of them a major violation involving a leak of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) from electrical equipment, EPA did not issue a complaint against Energy. Federal law does not allow EPA to fine another federal agency under TSCA, as it does under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. If a TSCA penalty complaint could have been issued, EPA would have proposed fines of $31,000.

Instead of a complaint, EPA today sent Energy a notice of the TSCA violations. The notice gave Energy 15 days to tell EPA what corrective actions had been taken or what actions Energy intended to take.

Last year’s inspection also uncovered a number of situations of concern to inspectors who were checking out emergency preparedness efforts relating to two other federal statutes --- the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability Act, the latter popularly known as the Superfund law. In a letter last November, EPA told Energy that the inspectors found:
  • The level of awareness regarding emergency preparedness to be generally inadequate. It appeared as if emergency preparedness and off-site notification were not a priority.
  • Instead of several chemical management and tracking systems, there should be a single data base which would make it easier for emergency response crews to identify the chemicals, hazardous waste and radiological materials throughout the Hanford Reservation
  • Arrangements were lacking for making immediate notification of a hazardous release to emergency response officials in Benton and Franklin counties, or to the state of Washington’s emergency response center.
  • Emergency managers at the Hanford Reservation need to know, in addition to what they must do in an emergency, how the roles of others fit into overall response plans for the Hanford Reservation.
  • Since the letter was sent to Energy three months ago, EPA has met with Energy officials.
Bussell said that Energy is working with EPA to satisfy EPA’s concerns.
Today’s EPA complaint is not the first time Hanford Reservation managers have been called on the carpet for failing to make a hazardous waste determination as required by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. In March 1993, the Washington Department of Ecology found that Energy had failed to make a hazardous waste determination for approximately 2,000 containers of waste generated from tank farms in the 200 Area at Hanford. Three years later, Ecology again notified Energy that hazardous waste determinations had not been made at several areas at Hanford. Those two instances were among six occasions over the last six years where Ecology found that Energy was not following various waste management rules, including failure to properly manage wastes, or failure to comply with contingency plan provisions.

"If legal action is what’s required to bring about regulatory compliance at Hanford, then EPA is prepared to take it," Bussell declared. "EPA will insist that Energy and its contractors follow the letter and spirit of our environmental laws."