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EPA Issues Complaints Against UMDNJ and Kean University for Hazardous Waste Violations

Release Date: 07/17/2003
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(#03086) New York, N.Y. -- Two New Jersey Universities, The University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark and Kean University in Union face a total of $232,900 in penalties for alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), as part of its ongoing effort to protect the health of those working at and attending institutions of higher learning, is taking action against the colleges alleging past violations of federal and state laws that provide for the safe handling and storage of hazardous wastes.

"These penalties were totally avoidable. The good news, however, is that UMDNJ and Kean University are changing their procedures to prevent future recurrence of these violations and the resulting penalties, " said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny.

The complaints charge the universities with violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which requires hazardous waste to be managed in an environmentally sound manner from "cradle to grave." The complaints each include an order requiring the university to promptly address the alleged deficiencies if it has not already done so and to comply with all appropriate federal and state hazardous waste laws.

An EPA inspection of UMDNJ's Newark campus, which included the Schools of Medicine and Dentistry, the University Hospital, the Stone Cancer Center and the Doctor's Office Center, revealed that the university failed to determine if waste chemicals, solvents, and other hazardous wastes generated in its laboratories were hazardous wastes. The complaint also alleges that UMDNJ: failed to maintain and operate its facility to minimize the risk of releases of hazardous waste to the environment; did not ensure that its faculty and staff received required training in handling hazardous waste properly; did not keep hazardous waste containers closed; and improperly disposed of hazardous wastes, such as waste solvents and mercury-containing dental amalgam waste from its dental facilities. The fines proposed as a result of these violations total $166,658. UMDNJ is in the process of implementing procedures to clear the violations found on its Newark campus.

Kean University faces $66,300 in penalties for failing to determine if the waste it generated was hazardous waste, failing to operate hazardous waste storage areas in its science and maintenance buildings to minimize the possibility of a fire, explosion or release of hazardous waste and storing hazardous waste without obtaining the proper permit or complying with other conditions. Kean has remedied or is in the process of stabilizing the conditions that resulted in the complaint.

"EPA will continue to work with colleges and universities to develop environmental audit agreements that protect the health of students, faculty and staff and safeguard campus environments."said Ms. Kenny. EPA established its Colleges and Universities Initiative in 1999 because it found that many such institutions were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws. As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to 365 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico; held free workshops to help colleges and universities comply; set up a Web site that provides information about their duties under the law; and warned them that EPA inspections of their facilities with the risk of financial penalties were imminent. EPA encouraged the institutions to avail themselves of the agency's Voluntary Audit Policy through which institutions can investigate and disclose violations to the agency and, if the necessary conditions are met, receive a partial or complete reduction in financial penalties.

EPA continues to encourage colleges and universities to participate in the Colleges and Universities Initiative. To date, 27 colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have come forward to disclose more than 50 violations to EPA. Most of them have been granted a 100% waiver of certain penalties totaling more than $2.4 million.

EPA has signed self-audit agreements with Rutgers University, the State University of New York ( SUNY), Syracuse University, the City University of New York, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Clarkson University, Canisius College and Pace University in which those schools have committed to self-audit, disclosure and remediation schedules in exchange for the benefits of the Voluntary Audit Policy.

Previous complaints with penalties totaling more than $1.6 million have been filed over the past sixteen months against eight colleges and universities in New Jersey and New York. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations anticipated.

More information on EPA's Voluntary Audit Policy is available.

The Web site for the Colleges and Universities Initiative.