While they would appear an unlikely target for the scrutiny of Environmental Protection Agency scrutiny, institutions of higher learning, including Yale, have become a favorite target of the agency in recent years.
Brown University yesterday agreed to pay $365,454 for alleged violations of federal regulations on hazardous waste management. Of that money, $285,000 will go to support environmental projects in local Providence high schools.
“I think that’s an exciting piece of the settlement that we were able to take a difficult situation and to turn it into something positive for EPA, Brown and the local high schools,” said Tim Conway, the senior enforcement counsel for the EPA’s New England office. “Hopefully this will be a jumping point for other universities to work with their communities in this way.”
In May 1999, EPA inspectors found that Brown failed to handle hazardous waste materials properly and to protect water from oil spills. The EPA filed a formal complaint against the university in November 2000 about the violations, which almost all occurred in laboratories and waste facilities on Brown’s campus.
According to the allegations, Brown did not properly distinguish its toxic waste from its other waste and also failed to prepare for an oil spill, which actually occurred in 1996 when a Brown off-campus building on the shoreline dumped oil into Narragansett Bay.
“There were a number of things, some of them were management issues, some of them were labeling. There was one oil tank that gave way at a property Brown owns,” said Mark Nickel, director of the Brown News Service. “It was a range of things.”
Under the settlement, Brown will help local high schools reduce their toxic waste and also perform toxic waste removals. Brown, however, will still have to pay a $79,858 fine.
The EPA cited Yale in 1994 for hazardous waste violations in a similar case. The University had to pay $69,570 in fines and over $279,000 for “environmental enhancement projects” on campus and in the community.
Conway said that the complaint against Yale was one of the main incidents that made the agency question universities’ compliance with environmental guidelines.
“That was one of the ones we looked at, and we realized that they had a ways to go,” Conway said. “It was an enforcement action, including violations of hazardous waste regulations. Yale and the EPA sat down and negotiated an agreement.”
In 1999, the agency created a university initiative to improve compliance on campuses.
“The EPA over the last several year had done inspections at different universities and realized colleges and universities had a lot of work to do to make sure they were handling chemicals properly,” Conway said. “[The EPA] started an initiative in the New England office to make sure [universities] were complying. Brown is clearly not alone,” Conway added.