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EPA Fines Company that Played Role in Improper PCB Disposal at Model City Landfill

Release Date: 12/18/2002
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(#02134) New York, N.Y. – Massachusetts-based Clean Harbors, Inc. and several of its subsidiaries have been fined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on charges that they improperly handled a shipment of 180 large capacitors containing polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) that originated from a U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) facility in Kentucky. Due in part to the mishandling, the capacitors were initially improperly disposed of in the Chemical Waste Management landfill in Model City, New York, instead of being incinerated. PCBs – considered likely to cause cancer in laboratory animals – had been widely used in hundreds of industrial and commercial applications until they were banned in 1979. Clean Harbors has settled with EPA for a penalty of $85,750, which also covers violations other than those involving the DOE capacitors, including spills of PCB-containing oil at one of the company’s facilities and the mislabeling of other PCB items.

“Companies in the business of handling PCBs are well aware of their responsibilities under the law, and owe their clients and the public the strict compliance that this agency expects,” said EPA Regional Administrator Jane M. Kenny. “We’re pleased that, in this case, we were able to rectify the problem and come to a settlement. EPA will continue to carefully scrutinize hazardous waste activities in and around Model City to protect the health and well-being of local residents and their environment.”

In September 2000, Clean Harbors and the DOE’s contractor disclosed to EPA the possibility that the 180 large PCB capacitors had been improperly buried in CWM’s Model City landfill instead of incinerated. After locating and removing the three metal containers housing the capacitors, CWM paid a penalty of $78,475 for failing to open the containers and inspect their contents prior to disposing of them – a violation of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA).

Clean Harbors, an environmental management firm, also played a role in the improper disposal of the capacitors. At the DOE facility in Kentucky, the capacitors were placed in containers properly labeled “PCB Capacitors.” On the manifest accompanying them to the Spring Grove Resource Recovery facility (a Clean Harbors subsidiary) in Cincinnati, Ohio, Clean Harbors identified the shipment as “PCB Capacitors,” but also included a conflicting code that identified the waste as “PCB Debris.” PCB debris may be landfilled as hazardous waste; large high-voltage capacitors must be incinerated. Upon arrival at Spring Grove, the containers were opened and visually inspected, but no attempt was made to reconcile the discrepancy between the manifest and the contents, or to notify EPA of the discrepancy within 15 days – both actions required under TSCA. The containers were then shipped to Clean Harbors of Connecticut in Bristol, this time manifested as TSCA-exempt ballasts, which may be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. In Bristol, Clean Harbors again failed to note the discrepancy or to notify EPA. When the capacitors were ultimately shipped to the CWM hazardous waste landfill in Model City, the accompanying manifest identified the waste to CWM as “PCB soil and debris” – again, material that may be disposed of in a hazardous waste landfill. The capacitors were improperly buried in the Model City landfill in late September 2000. They were retrieved from the landfill in January 2002 and were then disposed of according to PCB regulations.

Besides the circumstances surrounding the shipping and disposal of the 180 capacitors, there were several separate violations addressed in the settlement:

    • •Clean Harbors disclosed that it had mismatched tracking numbers among six PCB transformers it had been hired to dispose of. As a result, a transformer with a high level of PCBs was drained of fluid and processed in a scrap metal recovery oven instead of incinerated – a violation of TSCA;
    • inspectors from EPA’s Boston office noted spills of PCB-containing oil on the concrete floor in two locations at Clean Harbors’ Braintree, Massachusetts facility, and
    • inspectors from EPA’s New York/New Jersey office noted that from April 1998 to January 2002, 24 separate shipments of PCB waste from Clean Harbors to the landfill in Model City had manifests that did not properly identify of the type of PCB waste the shipments contained.
The company made its $85,750 payment in mid-November 2002.