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The Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico Fined for Hazardous Waste Violations

Release Date: 06/03/2004
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(#04080) New York, N.Y. -- The Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico Exit EPA disclaimer(Catholic University), faces $280,619 in penalties for alleged violations of hazardous waste regulations at its main campus in Ponce, Puerto Rico. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is taking action against the university for past violations of federal laws that provide for the safe handling and storage of hazardous wastes. The action is part of EPA's ongoing effort to protect the health of those working at and attending institutions of higher learning,

"Catholic University in Puerto Rico could have avoided some of these penalties by volunteering to look at its own facilities and remedying any problems found," said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. "EPA has developed voluntary self audit programs to protect people's health and the environment. We continue to provide alternate approaches to colleges and universities, as well as all other regulated entities, to assist their efforts to come into compliance."

The complaint charges Catholic University 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 complaint includes an order requiring the university to promptly address the alleged deficiencies if it has not already done so and to comply with federal hazardous waste laws.

An EPA inspection of Catholic University's main campus revealed the university had: failed to determine if wastes it generated were hazardous wastes; stored hazardous wastes without a permit; stored hazardous waste in open containers; and stored hazardous waste in containers that were in poor condition. Catholic University did not maintain and operate its facility to minimize the possibility of fire, explosion and other risks if an unplanned or sudden release of hazardous waste to the environment should occur. Many chemicals were stored in an unsafe manner, significantly increasing the risk of fire or an explosion occurring. The university also did not provide employees with required training in hazardous waste management or develop emergency contingency plans or a make arrangements with emergency responders and nearby hospitals in the event of sudden or unexpected releases of hazardous wastes to the environment. The fines proposed as a result of the university's violations total $280,619.

Catholic University has informed EPA that it is working towards correcting the violations found at its main campus.

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 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, 76 colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have come forward to disclose more than 800 violations to EPA. Most of them have been granted a 100% waiver of certain penalties totaling more than $2.4 million.

EPA has inspected 44 colleges and universities and has issued administrative complaints with penalties totaling more than $2.4 million over the past 21 months against 15 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations anticipated.