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EPA Continues Successful Enforcement Program Nationally and in Region
Release Date: 12/11/2003
|(#03143) New York, New York The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today released its national compliance assurance and enforcement results for fiscal year 2003 showing that environmental benefits increased an estimated 131 percent over fiscal year 2002. EPA Region 2, which covers New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, continued its strong enforcement program in the past fiscal year as well, with actions that either reduced, treated or properly managed more than 40 million pounds of pollution. In addition, about 1.8 million people now drink safer water due to actions taken by EPA Region 2.
"Using a balanced combination of compliance assistance, incentives, and enforcement, we continue to bring more and more facilities into and beyond compliance with the laws that protect public health," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Region 2 Administrator. "We are working with facilities to increase their compliance and seeking ways for them to do more than just comply. But make no mistake those who evade the law will continue to feel its full weight."
During this past fiscal year, which ran from October 1, 2002 to September 30, 2003, Region 2 conducted in excess of 2700 inspections of facilities in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands; took 542 actions against and settled 241 cases with polluters in the region; and collected a total of more than $8.4 million in penalties. In addition to paying penalties, facilities conducted work valued at more than $350 million to comply with environmental laws and agreed to perform nearly $2.5 million in supplemental environmental projects. One example is Virgin Petroleum, Inc., which will spend more than $100,000 to perform an environmental audit and install sophisticated leak detection equipment at its facilities in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Projects like these allow facilities to perform work that directly benefits the environment to offset a portion of the traditional penalties. The region also held nearly 300 workshops and visited more than 180 facilities to help operators and managers better understand and comply with environmental law. Under its Superfund program, Region 2 reached settlements with private parties for cleanup work valued at $72.8 million and recovered $ 64.4 million in past costs.
Among the most significant settlements reached by Region 2 last year was settled a major case brought by the federal government against the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) for violations at hundreds of wastewater pump stations dating from September 2000.
In the area of criminal enforcement, more than 40 individuals and companies were charged with environmental crimes. Defendants in criminal cases were sentenced to more than 16 years in prison, more than 28 year's worth of probation and ordered to pay nearly $1 million in fines for criminal violations. In one of the most significant criminal cases in the nation involving criminal violations of asbestos requirements, Joseph P. Thorn of Rensselaer, N.Y., former owner of A Plus Environmental Services, Inc., was sentenced to 14 years in prison and was ordered to forfeit $939,079 to the United States for illegal asbestos abatement and money laundering.
The region also enjoyed great success with its healthcare and university compliance initiatives, using an integrated approach of assistance, incentives, and enforcement to improve compliance with environmental requirements in these two sectors. The Agency reached out to hundreds of healthcare facilities and colleges and universities in the region and encouraged them to conduct self-audits to identify and correct any environmental violations. Many colleges and universities and healthcare facilities were not fully aware of their environmental responsibilities. Under EPA's compliance initiatives, facilities are encouraged to sign agreements with EPA committing to conduct environmental audits. In return, they are given reduced penalties for any violations that they disclose as a result of these audits. EPA has signed audit agreements with 13 colleges and universities and 13 hospitals, and is actively developing more than a dozen others. Many of the agreements cover multiple campuses or off-site facilities such as agricultural research stations, clinics, nursing homes and hospices.
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, was the first university in the country to enter into an audit agreement with EPA. Rutgers agreed to conduct a comprehensive environmental audit of its five campuses - Busch/Livingston; College Ave; Newark; Camden; and Cook/Douglass. An agreement with the State University of New York covers 58 separate campuses. EPA continues to conduct inspections of colleges, universities and healthcare facilities to ensure compliance. To date, the Agency has conducted 38 hazardous waste inspections at universities and 11 at healthcare facilities. These inspections have resulted in 14 enforcement actions against these facilities with more than $2 million in proposed penalties.
Nationally, in addition to the 600 million pounds of pollutants that were eliminated, treated or properly managed, EPA enforcement resulted in the treatment of more than 7.5 billion pounds of contaminated soil; the restoration of well more than 1000 acres of wetlands; and the treatment of 6.5 billion gallons of groundwater. In addition, approximately two million more people are now drinking water that meets federal standards.
Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA):
On July 1, 2003, DOJ and EPA entered into a settlement with the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), resolving allegations dating from September 2000 that it unlawfully discharged untreated sewage into the environment of Puerto Rico and violated pollutant discharge permits issued by EPA under the Clean Water Act. PRASA discharged raw sewage and other pollutants into navigable waters from 471 pump stations throughout the island of Puerto Rico, and failed to properly operate and maintain the pump stations.
The Consent Decree requires PRASA complete construction and take other remedial actions to eliminate long-standing violations at 185 sewage pump stations. The companies must also develop and implement a comprehensive plan for the operation and maintenance of PRASA's entire system of more than 600 pump stations, and implement a system-wide spill response and cleanup plan, at a total estimated cost of over $300 million. As the operation and maintenance plan is phased in, the discharges of raw sewage from PRASA's pump stations should diminish considerably. PRASA and its former operator, defendant Compania de Aguas de Puerto Rico, will also pay a $1 million civil penalty for their past violations of the Clean Water Act. In addition, PRASA has agreed to spend $1 million on a supplemental environmental project that will help low-income, rural communities improve the quality of their drinking water.
A Plus Environmental Services, Inc. (Asbestos):
Joseph P. Thorn of Rensselaer, N.Y., former owner of A Plus Environmental Services, Inc., was sentenced to 14 years in prison and was ordered to forfeit $939,079 to the United States for illegal asbestos abatement and money laundering. The defendant's actions led to the illegal removal of asbestos at more than 1,100 facilities in central and upstate New York. The facilities included elementary schools, churches, nursing homes, hospitals, police barracks, a state office building and numerous other public buildings and private residences. Witnesses, including former employees, testified that Thorn directed "rip and strip" operations that caused "snow storms" of visible airborne asbestos. Some workers were knowingly sent into asbestos "hot zones" without being directed to wear respirators and others were sent in without being given sufficient replacement filters for respirators. Inhaling airborne asbestos is a known cause of lung cancer, a lung disease known as "asbestosis," and mesothelioma, which is a cancer of the chest and abdominal cavities.