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EPA Fines Nassau Health Care Corporation for Violating Hazardous Health Waste Regulations

Release Date: 10/20/2003
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(#03127) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced today that it will seek $279,900 in penalties from the Nassau Health Care Corporation Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow, New York for violating numerous requirements of the federal and New York State hazardous waste regulations. The medical research, diagnostic and treatment facility must comply with all hazardous waste management requirements under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

"Hazardous waste regulations help to ensure that facilities like Nassau Health do not release toxic chemicals into the environment and protect workers, patients and visitors at the hospital," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. "Many toxic compounds easily contaminate air, ground or water and exposure can cause or aggravate many illnesses. Though there were no releases in this case, it is essential that companies with hazardous chemicals in their waste follow EPA and state regulations very carefully to ensure that they don't endanger people or the environment."

The discovery of violations at Nassau Health grew out of EPA inspections of the facility this past winter. These violations included storage or abandonment of several types of solid waste and chemicals, and failure to determine whether or not they were hazardous wastes. In addition, the hospital 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 identified with the required markings or inspected regularly; emergency response agencies were not notified of hazardous waste being stored; and the hospital did not minimize the possibility of fire, explosion or unplanned release of hazardous substances into the environment. Finally, a number of hospital personnel responsible for hazardous waste management were not trained in how to handle it, and no hazardous waste emergency response plan was in place. Since the inspection, Nassau Health has been correcting the violations. The company has 30 days to respond to the complaint.

Nassau Health could have avoided this enforcement action by taking advantage of EPA's Hospitals and Healthcare Initiative. EPA Region 2 started the Hospital and Healthcare Initiative in the fall of 2002 to help hospitals and healthcare facilities comply with environmental regulations as part of a larger EPA Voluntary Audit Policy. The Agency established the policy to encourage prompt disclosure and correction of environmental violations, safeguarding human health and the environment. Many hospitals and healthcare facilities were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws or failed to implement effective compliance strategies. As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to 480 facilities in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and held free workshops to help hospitals comply. In addition, the Agency established a Web site that provides information about their duties under the law, and warned hospitals that EPA inspections of their facilities - with risk of financial penalties - were imminent.

Hospitals can take advantage of the Agency's Voluntary Audit Policy, through which they can investigate and disclose environmental violations to EPA and, as a compliance incentive, receive a partial or complete reduction in financial penalties. To date, eleven hospitals have entered into voluntary self-audit disclosure agreements with EPA.

More information about hazardous waste regulations can be found on EPA's website at: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/index.htm.