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Recent EPA Enforcement in New England Underscores Need for Careful Waste Handling

Release Date: 01/25/2007
Contact Information: David Deegan, (617) 918-1017

(Boston, Mass. – Jan. 25, 2007) – Five recent EPA enforcement actions against several New England companies illustrate the importance of understanding and following federal regulations regarding handling and disposal of toxic substances.

Each case involves the mishandling of waste containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a highly toxic compound. Because they did not test the waste, the companies sent for disposal or recycling waste materials that were later found to be contaminated with PCBs. Federal law requires special disposal methods for PCBs.

“If your company’s waste could potentially contain PCBs, or if you’re disposing of unknown materials, get it tested first – waste must be properly characterized and tested before sending it out for disposal,” said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA’s New England Office. “This problem has the potential to cause serious harm to people and the environment. The good news is that it's easy and inexpensive to test waste before shipping it for disposal or recycling.”

The following enforcement actions involved mishandling wastes that contained PCBs:

A Connecticut property owner and one of their tenants are being held responsible for PCB contamination at a leased property in Bridgeport, Conn. EPA issued an Administrative Complaint seeking $32,500 in penalties against 1225 Connecticut Avenue, LLC, the property owner, after discarded oil in a catch basin at the property was found to be contaminated with PCBs.

The oil was shipped from the site by Allied Elevator Service Company, Inc., which operates a business at the site, and who agreed to pay $1,615 in penalties for its role in sending PCB-containing oily waste for disposal without first properly testing and characterizing the waste.

Due to Allied Elevator Service Company’s failure to test the waste, the uncharacterized oily waste was mixed with other, non-PCB waste, creating an even larger volume of PCB-contaminated waste. A lesson from this case is that oil from unknown sources should always be tested for PCBs.

Two Massachusetts companies, Clean Harbors of Braintree, Inc., of Braintree, Mass., and Massachusetts Electric Company d/b/a/ National Grid USA, were held responsible for failing to adequately test and characterize PCB waste after an Oct. 2005 oil spill in Malden, Mass.

The incident occurred after National Grid hired Clean Harbors to help respond to an oil release in a flooded underground transformer vault. Despite regulations in the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) which assume that all pre-1979 transformers contain PCBs above threshold levels, an inaccurate on-site screening test was relied upon by the companies, resulting in mischaracterization of the waste on the waste manifest.

Confirmatory testing later showed that the waste contained PCBs, which had already been shipped to a landfill as non-hazardous waste. After the violations were discovered the companies immediately informed EPA of the errors.

National Grid settled the matter with EPA in late 2006, agreeing to pay a penalty of $2,925 and to train its employees to assume that oil from untested pre-1979 transformers contains PCBs. Under a separate settlement, Clean Harbors of Braintree will pay a penalty of $8,700, conduct training for staff and perform an additional clean up at its Braintree facility.

StoneHill Environmental Inc., of Portsmouth, New Hampshire will pay a $2,000 penalty under a settlement with EPA for having shipped 6.37 tons of PCB-contaminated “sandblast grit” to a Maine recycling facility. StoneHill failed to wait for test results which revealed that the sandblast grit contained PCBs. The sandblast grit in turn was used in paving materials at the Maine recycling facility’s parking lot, where they are believed to pose minimal risk to human health.

The lesson from this case is that old paint and coatings can sometimes contain PCBs. Sandblast grit should be tested before arranging for disposal.

Although federal regulations have prohibited the manufacture of PCBs and controlled the phase-out of their existing uses since 1977, the highly toxic substance can still be found in older paints, caulking, oil and electrical equipment. Facilities disposing of waste materials that are in question should arrange for PCB analysis before shipping wastes for disposal or recycling.

More information:

Appropriate ways to manage PCBs (epa.gov/region01/enforcement/tsca/index.html#pcb)

Basic information on PCBs (epa.gov/pcb)

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