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EPA Proposes $500,000 in Fines Against Brown Univ. for Waste and Water Violations

Release Date: 11/30/2000
Contact Information: Peyton Fleming, EPA Press Office (617-918-1008)

BOSTON - As part of a focused enforcement effort to bring all New England colleges and universities into compliance with federal environmental laws, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed fines of up to $500,000 against Brown University for 15 violations of federal environmental laws. EPA also ordered Brown to comply immediately with environmental regulations.

According to a complaint filed last week by EPA New England, the Ivy League university violated federal environmental laws designed to ensure proper handling of hazardous waste, as well as to protect ground and surface waters from oil pollution. Almost all the violations occurred at various laboratories and waste storage facilities at the 143-acre campus in Providence, RI.

Among the most serious violations, Brown failed to follow requirements for proper storage of hazardous waste and failed to properly determine which of its wastes were hazardous. The complaint also says Brown had two violations of the Clean Water Act -- failure to prepare a plan to prevent oil spills and an oil spill of about 60 gallons in 1996 at an off-campus building on the shoreline of Narragansett Bay in Bristol. The importance of the spill plan is reflected in the fact that Brown had three spills in the several years prior to last year's inspection by EPA.

"We were disappointed by the number of violations we found at Brown, but we're also very encouraged by their responsiveness in addressing the problems and willingness to explore long-term solutions to ensure that these violations don't re-occur," said Mindy S. Lubber, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office.

Brown is the second university in New England to be hit with an enforcement action since the agency launched its College and University Initiative nearly two years ago. Inspections have been carried out at 11 colleges and universities in the region -- among those, the May 1999 inspection at Brown that led to last week's enforcement action. The initiative includes a stepped up inspection presence at college campuses across New England and extensive compliance assistance activities, including workshops geared for university environmental compliance personnel.

EPA New England launched its university initiative in March 1999 in an effort to improve environmental compliance at college campuses. The program was initiated after EPA inspectors noticed generally poor compliance during their visits to universities, which typically have large numbers of laboratories and other operations which handle a wide array of toxic materials.

In launching the effort, EPA sent warning letters to the presidents of all 282 colleges and universities in New England, including the president at Brown. The letter outlined the agency's overall initiative, including a heightened enforcement presence at college campuses and a compliance assistance program specifically geared for universities.

EPA New England has conducted or participated in 10 workshops and conferences to help universities come into compliance. Additional workshops will be held next spring. The agency has also created a university compliance web page, which can be visited at www.epa.gov/region01/assistance/univ/

"EPA has made an all-out effort to help colleges and universities meet their responsibilities," Lubber said. "This agency is committed to making sure these institutions of higher learning keep clean, safe facilities that are a model to the students educated on their campuses."

Brown is the fourth university in New England to be hit with an enforcement action in the last five years. EPA's New England Office has also taken actions against the University of New Hampshire, Yale University and Boston University for violations of hazardous waste management laws and the Clean Water Act.

UNH early this year agreed to pay a $49,000 penalty and conduct environmental improvements worth about $180,000 to settle claims that the university violated federal and state hazardous waste management laws. Yale paid a $69,570 fine in 1995 after being cited for mishandling and mislabeling hazardous chemicals the previous year. As a result of the enforcement action, the school also agreed to invest $279,000 in environmental programs on campus and in New Haven.

BU, inspected in 1996, reached a settlement with EPA in October 1997 in which the school agreed to pay a $253,000 cash penalty, invest $500,000 on environmental projects and conduct a comprehensive environmental compliance audit. It was the largest enforcement action ever against an institution of higher learning.

"We hope our actions will serve as a warning to other university leaders across New England who should make sure environmental violations are not occurring on their campuses," said Lubber. "This should also serve as an invitation for them to work with us."

EPA is encouraging universities to conduct voluntary environmental audits. Those that voluntarily discover, disclose and quickly correct violations of environmental laws may see the penalties substantially reduced or even eliminated as a result, Lubber said.