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Cosmed Group, Inc. Agrees to Pay $1.5 Million for Clean Air Act Violations Agreement

Release Date: 8/18/2005
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FOR RELEASE: Thursday, August 18, 2005

(#05095) NEW YORK -- The federal government today announced a settlement with the Cosmed Group, Inc., which has agreed to pay $500,000 in penalties and spend an additional $1 million on important clean air projects to resolve EPA allegations that the company violated the Clean Air Act. The settlement resolves EPA claims that Cosmed violated the Maximum Achievable Control Technology (MACT) requirements for ethylene oxide, a probable human carcinogen that also contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, or "smog." Under one of the projects, Cosmed will provide ultra- low sulfur diesel fuel to municipal vehicles in Camden, New Jersey and install diesel emission control devices on 16 of those vehicles, yielding significant benefits to air quality.

"Because of the risks associated with exposure to ethylene oxide, it is essential that facilities comply with regulations for this toxic air pollutant," said Phyllis P. Harris, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator of EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Through active oversight and enforcement of these regulations, we are working to ensure that all citizens breathe cleaner air."

Ethylene oxide is a probable human carcinogen. Ethylene oxide may cause serious reproductive harm, irritate the lungs, and damage the liver and kidneys. In addition, as a volatile organic compound, ethylene oxide also contributes to the formation of ground- level ozone. Ozone can irritate people's respiratory systems, causing coughing and throat irritation. More seriously, exposure to ground level ozone can aggravate asthma and damage lung cells, and may cause permanent lung damage. These effects can be worse in children and people with respiratory ailments such as asthma.

Federal ethylene oxide standards apply to large facilities that use the chemical in sterilization or fumigation processes. Cosmed, headquartered in Jamestown, RI, is a national contract sterilization company. At one time, Cosmed operated about one-third of all sterilization facilities regulated by the ethylene oxide standards. Cosmed's operations involved sterilizing products for the food and medical industries. Early this year Cosmed sold five facilities representing its medical products sterilization operations.

The alleged violations occurred between 1998 and 2003 at six of Cosmed's eight facilities, nationwide, including one in South Plainfield, NJ, as well as others in Baltimore, MD, Grand Prairie, TX, San Diego, CA, Coventry, RI, and Waukegan, IL. EPA discovered the most serious violations of MACT standards part of its National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants at the South Plainfield, Coventry and Waukegan facilities, which all lacked adequate pollution control equipment to limit ethylene oxide emissions. These violations are thought to have resulted in a total of over 30 tons of excess emissions of ethylene oxide. No excess emissions were found at the other facilities, and no violations were alleged at the Linden, NJ, and Sparks, NV, facilities. In addition to these alleged violations of federal emission standards, and failure to measure and quantify its ethylene oxide emissions, the case also involves findings that Cosmed violated federally enforceable state clean air laws in Illinois.

"In settlement negotiations, EPA supports projects that the violator agrees to undertake which will produce additional environmental benefits in the communities affected by the
violations," said Acting EPA Region 2 Administrator Kathleen C. Callahan, whose jurisdiction includes New Jersey. "As part of this settlement, Cosmed will be spending approximately $210,000 to improve air quality in South Camden." The facility in South Plainfield has installed the proper equipment and is believed to have been in compliance with federal air emission standards for the last two years.

The clean air projects that Cosmed is pursuing will significantly reduce air pollution and deliver important public health benefits to large populations in areas near current or former Cosmed plants. These mostly urban neighborhoods typically bear a disproportionate environmental burden. The project in Camden, NJ, and similar ones in Lake County, IL, and San Diego, CA, will reduce pollution from municipal dieselvehicles through the use of advanced pollution controls and cleaner diesel fuel. In the South Camden project, EPA scientists estimate that 4.65 tons of particulate matter will be eliminated in its first two years, and 40.2 tons of carbon monoxide and 7.32 tons of hydrocarbons will not be released into the atmosphere over the first three years of the project. The project in Dallas, TX will convert gasoline-powered school buses to run on propane, a cleaner burning fuel. In the first three years, these four projects, combined, will eliminate approximately 235 tons of air pollution, including some toxic air pollutants that pose serious health concerns.

"This case underscores both the importance of enforcement of EPA's ethylene oxide standards to protect the public health and the value of coordinated national environmental enforcement efforts to address widespread violations at multiple facilities owned by the same company," said Kelly A. Johnson, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The Department of Justice is committed to taking vigorous, nationwide enforcement action to ensure that companies make compliance with the MACT standards a top priority."

The Consent Decree, lodged today at the U.S. District Court in Rhode Island, also requires Cosmed to complete environmental audits at all eight of its current and former facilities and establish an environmental management system that will help ensure the company fully complies with environmental regulations in the future at its three remaining facilities.

The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and final court approval. For more information about the settlement, see:
http://www.epa.gov/compliance/resources/cases/civil/caa/.