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MIT COMMITS TO THREE ENVIRONMENTAL PROJECTS AND $150,000 CIVIL PENALTY TO SETTLE EPA VIOLATIONS

Release Date: 04/18/2001
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, EPA Press Office (617-918-1013) Samantha Martin, U.S. Attorney's Press Office

Boston, MA – The Massachusetts Institute of Technology today settled an enforcement case with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Attorney's Office by agreeing to fund more than $400,000 of innovative environmental projects and pay a civil penalty of $150,000.

"This settlement will lead to significant environmental benefits that extend far beyond MIT's campus," said Ira Leighton, acting regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "Cambridge and the Charles River will see improvements, as will universities and colleges all across the country."

The settlement stems from widespread environmental violations discovered during an EPA inspection at MIT's Cambridge campus in 1998. The university was specifically cited for 18 violations of federal hazardous waste laws, the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act.

The case highlights EPA's focused efforts to bring New England colleges and universities, as well as facilities along the Charles River, into compliance with environmental laws.

Under the terms of the settlement, MIT will develop a computer-based ‘virtual campus' compliance assistance tool to help universities and colleges all over the country comply with environmental laws. The virtual campus will address compliance with several environmental laws in eight featured areas, including a laboratory, an auto and grounds maintenance department and a 90-day hazardous waste storage area. When it is completed by 2004, the virtual campus will be posted on the Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence web site.

MIT has also agreed to install at the campus's new Stata Center, a major research facility situated in an area of Cambridge prone to flooding, a state-of-the-art stormwater control and treatment system utilizing biofiltration. The project will reduce the rate of stormwater runoff from the area into the Charles River by 50 percent and reduce the amount of solids in stormwater runoff by 80 percent.

MIT also agreed to develop and implement three different environmental education projects with the Cambridge public school system. The projects, which will be implemented over the next two years as part of a program called the MIT-Cambridge Schools Collaboration on Education for the Environment, will focus on water quality, pollution prevention, site cleanups or energy use - all with an urban theme. Each of the projects also will include a field activity to help improve the urban environment.

And, lastly, the settlement requires MIT to implement an Environmental Management System. As part of this effort, MIT must, among other things, identify key personnel at MIT responsible for environmental compliance issues, develop an inventory of materials used in laboratories, create a system of self inspection, improve its environmental training programs, and create a program for preventing, reducing, recycling and reusing wastes.

EPA inspectors went to MIT in May 1998. They found the university:

    • Violated federal hazardous waste emergency, storage, handling and labeling regulations. Violations were found in 56 of 114 laboratories inspected.
    • Failed to keep an opacity monitor on its medical waste incinerator in working order and violated several reporting requirements relating to the use of fuels in MIT's power plant.
    • Did not have an adequate and fully implemented oil spill prevention plan.
"It is clear that the violations stem from institutional problems – too much decentralization of responsibility, lack of clear lines for environmental compliance, deficiencies in training programs and lack of resources dedicated to environmental compliance," said EPA's Leighton.

Leighton said that although EPA found no damage to the environment because of these violations, the reason hazardous waste regulations are in place is to prevent environmental damage.

"We commend MIT for the aggressive steps it has taken to correct the environmental deficiencies at issue in today's settlement, and for the innovative environmental projects it has agreed to undertake," stated U.S. Attorney Donald K. Stern.

Leighton also applauded MIT for its cooperation with EPA, pointing out the university went above and beyond what the agency required.

"MIT has used this enforcement action to spur environmental initiatives above and beyond what is required by the consent decree," he said. "For example, MIT reports that it has greatly expanded its recycling program, started a ‘green buildings' task force to develop and implement guidelines for the construction of more environmentally sustainable buildings on campus, and instituted a ‘green goods' procurement program."

"I am delighted that MIT and EPA are making it possible for our schools to participate in the Education for the Environment program," said Bobbie D'Alessandro, superintendent of the Cambridge Public Schools. "The Education for the Environment Program will enhance the opportunities for students to learn about urban environmental protection through hands-on field activities."

MIT is the sixth university in New England fined by the EPA in two years. After finding widespread non-compliance with environmental laws at universities and colleges, EPA New England in 1999 launched its university initiative in an effort to improve environmental compliance at college campuses. The initiative includes a stepped up inspection presence at college campuses across New England and extensive compliance assistance activities, including workshops geared for university environmental compliance personnel.

In launching the effort, EPA sent letters to the presidents of all 282 colleges and universities in New England, including the president of MIT. The letter outlined the agency's overall initiative, including a heightened enforcement presence at college campuses and a compliance assistance program specifically geared for universities.

EPA New England has conducted or participated in a dozen workshops and conferences to help universities come into compliance. Additional workshops will be held this spring. The agency has also created a university compliance web page, which can be visited at www.epa.gov/region01/assistance/univ/

"The fact of the matter is that colleges and universities are often the size of a town or even a small city. And like a municipality – even more so because of the nature of their business – they use hazardous materials in research and generate hazardous waste," Leighton said. "And it doesn't matter that they are an educational institution. Their hazardous material and hazardous waste can do just as much damage to the environment."

Among the campuses where EPA has levied fines or proposed fines are the University of Rhode Island, Brown University, the University of New Hampshire, Boston University and Yale University.

The case against MIT was handled by Catherine Smith, EPA senior enforcement counsel, First Assistant U.S. Attorney David S. Mackey in Stern's Office, and Assistant U.S. Attorney George B. Henderson in Stern's Civil Division.