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EPA Cites Dry Cleaner in Charlotte Amalie

Release Date: 10/27/2005
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FOR RELEASE: Thursday, October 27, 2005

(#05123) NEW YORK, N.Y. — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has cited the largest laundry and dry cleaning operation in the U.S. Virgin Islands for violating federal rules governing the identification, handling, storage and disposal of hazardous waste. EPA is seeking a $280,008 penalty from Island Laundries and its owner McCoy Webster for violations at their facility at #12 Subbase in Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas.

"In areas where coastal waters and ground water are so vulnerable to chemical contamination, dry cleaners that do not properly handle hazardous materials pose an even greater risk to people and the environment." EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg explained. "Dry cleaners in the Virgin Islands should take special care to protect their neighbors and their local environment."

When a violating dry cleaner is identified, EPA assesses financial penalties based on the risks posed by the violations to human health and the environment, the extent of deviation from the regulatory requirements and the amount it takes to erase any economic benefit gained by non-compliance.

In addition to other violations in the complaint, EPA alleges that this business failed to account for a substantial amount of hazardous waste that it generated over a period of years.

On September 8, 2004, EPA inspected the Island Laundries facility for compliance with Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) regulations. The Agency determined that the facility failed to properly designate wastes as hazardous wastes; stored, disposed of and treated its hazardous wastes without a permit; and failed to minimize the possibility of a hazardous waste release into the environment by mishandling them. Leaks of these materials can cause respiratory problems for workers, contaminate ground water and seriously damage marine environments.

Dry cleaners use tetrachloroethylene, commonly referred to as perc, in its process. Perc, which evaporates very easily into the air, is suspected of causing cancer in humans, is considered toxic, and can cause dizziness, nausea and headaches when either inhaled or absorbed through the skin.

The facility also improperly handled flourescent light bulbs, which contain the known neurotoxin mercury. Mercury can be released into the environment when fluorescent bulbs are crushed during disposal. Fluorescent light bulbs can and should be recycled.

Dry cleaning operations have been sources of chemical contamination at many Superfund National Priorities List sites in New Jersey, New York and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Under federal law, dry cleaners are required to safely manage their hazardous waste, and comply with air pollution rules. Since 1997, EPA has regularly inspected dry cleaning facilities in New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. In spite of an extensive outreach compliance program and over $880,000 in proposed penalties, widespread non-compliance continues to be a problem.

The owner of Island Laundries met with EPA in New York City on October 19, 2005 to contest the allegations in the complaint, present mitigating factors and enter into settlement discussions.

For more information on the proper management of dry cleaning operations, contact Marilyn Stapleton, Environmental Program Manager, Small Business Technical Assistance at the Division of Environmental Protection, Virgin Islands Department of Planning & Natural Resources at (340) 774-3320, Web site http://www.dpnr.gov.vi/dep/SBTA.htm . For more information on the proper disposal of mercury-containing bulbs in the U.S. Virgin Islands contact John Green, Director of Environmental Programs, Virgin Islands Waste Management Authority at (340) 773-4489.

For more information about hazardous waste handling requirements contact EPA's office in the U.S. Virgin Islands at (340) 714-2332 or visit: www.epa.gov/epaoswer/osw/hazwaste.htm.