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EPA Signs Environmental Self-Audit Agreements with Three New York Healthcare Institutions

Release Date: 03/26/2004
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(#04044) New York, N.Y. -- The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has entered into agreements with Alice Hyde Medical Center Exit EPA disclaimerin upstate New York, Columbia University Medical Center Exit EPA disclaimerin New York City and the Riverside Health Care System Exit EPA disclaimerin Westchester to conduct comprehensive environmental audits of their facilities. These agreements were reached through EPA's Healthcare Compliance Initiative, an innovative environmental program that helps hospitals and other healthcare facilities comply with environmental regulations through self-audits, under which they assess their facilities for compliance under all major environmental programs, report and correct violations, and subsequently receive relief from penalties.

"By entering into self-audit agreements, healthcare institutions demonstrate both initiative and respect for the health and well-being of their patients, staff and neighbors," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny."Institutions like these have many environmental obligations, because they operate much like small cities. Among other things, they house and feed patients and staff, operate labs, handle refuse and hazardous waste and run large equipment, such as boilers, furnaces and air conditioning units."

Under an agreement signed by EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny and Alice Hyde's Vice President of Support Services, Kevin Hart, the medical center will audit its environmental practices at its four facilities in Malone, New York. It will identify and report any violations, correct any deficiencies in its environmental compliance and take steps to prevent further recurrence of violations. Administrator Kenny signed a similar agreement with Dr. Robert Lewy, Senior Associate Dean at Columbia University Medical Center. Under the agreement, the medical center will audit its environmental practices at all of its facilities in New York City except at the Morningside Heights campus and the Lamont-Doherty Observatory, which recently had EPA inspections.

"The Columbia University Medical Center is dedicated to excellence in research, education and patient care to ease the burden of human disease," said Dr. Robert Lewy, senior associate dean at Columbia University Medical Center. "We have long embraced and supported a commitment to excellence in environmental stewardship. Our environmental health and safety programs reflect our deep concern for our neighbors and for the quality of our surrounding environment. We are delighted to partner with the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to improve our environmental programs."

Also signing an agreement with EPA was Riverside's Assistant Vice President of Support Services, Edward M. Brown. Under its agreement, Riverside will audit all of its facilities in Yonkers, Hastings, Dobbs Ferry, Ardsley and Irvington.

"Riverside is pleased to cooperate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and believes the Healthcare Compliance Initiative is consistent with our desire to ensure environmental compliance in the communities we serve," said Mr. Brown.

If these institutions correct all violations and abide by the other terms of their individual agreements, EPA has agreed to waive "gravity-based penalties," which are penalties normally based on the seriousness of the violations. The agreements cover all major federal environmental programs including air, water, pesticides, solid and hazardous wastes, hazardous substances and chemicals, environmental response, emergency planning, community right-to-know and toxic substances control.

EPA established the self-audit policy to encourage prompt disclosure and correction of environmental violations, safeguarding people and the environment. Many hospitals were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws or had failed to implement effective compliance strategies. As part of the initiative, EPA contacted all the hospitals in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and provided free workshops and an informational Web site to alert them to their duties under the law. The Agency also warned them that inspections of their facilities with the risk of financial penalties were imminent. Hospitals can join the Agency's voluntary self-audit program, 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, EPA has signed 21 self-audit agreements with hospitals in New York and New Jersey. In addition, 14 self-audit agreements have been signed under a similar program for colleges and universities. Additional agreements are being developed and more are expected.