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Puerto Rico University at Mayaguez to Settle Environmental Violations with System to Prevent Future Problems

Release Date: 10/05/2006
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes (787) 977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov, Rich Cahill (212) 637-3666, cahill.richard@epa.gov

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) Poor practices in the past landed the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) at Mayaguez in hot water with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but the university has agreed to take extraordinary steps to fix the problems and make sure they don’t reoccur in the future. Under an agreement that settles the school’s violations of federal environmental laws governing the handling of hazardous waste, discharges into waterways and emissions of hazardous pollutants into the air; UPR will spend almost $400,000 to set up a comprehensive environmental management system. In addition, the university agreed to pay almost $100,000 in fines. The environmental management system is aimed at going beyond complying with environmental regulations and reducing the impact of waste materials on the campus, the community and the environment. Almost 15,000 people study, teach and work on the Mayaguez campus.

“This settlement turns a bd situation around and gives UPR the opportunity to really shine as an example of how well a school can handle its environmental obligations,” said Alan J. Steinberg, EPA Regional Administrator. “This institution of learning has itself learned a valuable lesson and is now endeavoring to go beyond merely complying with regulations to becoming an excellent environmental citizen.”

UPR at Mayaguez reported suspected violations of federal hazardous waste, clean water and clean air laws to EPA under its self-audit policy, which provides self-reporters with relief, in full or in part, if all conditions of the policy are satisfied. It was determined that UPR was not eligible for full relief because UPR was not correcting all its violations. As a result, EPA conducted its own comprehensive inspection of the campus, with the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, and found numerous violations that showed that UPR Mayaguez was not operating its facility in a manner that would minimize the risk of releasing hazardous wastes and pollutants into the environment.

HAZARDOUS WASTE
UPR was storing leaking or mislabeled containers of hazardous waste in several buildings and open areas on campus. The containers held wastes ranging from used oil, various acids and spent solvents to formaldehyde. UPR was also improperly storing hundreds of containers of old and expired chemicals, such as picric acid, putting students and facility at risk. EPA’s inspection revealed that the university also had failed to properly determine which of the wastes it generates are hazardous wastes. The school never put plans into place with local emergency response managers to respond to a chemical spill or incident on campus. In addition, UPR didn’t comply with the conditions and regulations necessary to quality for permit exemptions.

This past June, EPA ordered UPR to fix leaking containers, place wastes in closed containers, properly label and store wastes and put into place a plan with local emergency response managers. In addition, EPA ordered the university to set up a system to determine which wastes it generates campus-wide are hazardous and to ship these off campus to a proper disposal facility. EPA also directed UPR to either obtain permits to accumulate and store hazardous waste, or alternatively, to meet the conditions for an exemption from permit requirements.

CLEAN AIR
The joint EPA and Commonwealth inspections also found that UPR’s poor management practices had resulted in spills and leaks inside the chlorine gas storage and distribution building in the main swimming pool area on the campus, where the school stores between 1,500 and 1,800 pounds of chlorine gas. As part of an order under the Clean Air Act, the university submitted an assessment to EPA of this chlorine gas storage and distribution system, including tests to detect leaks.

CLEAN WATER
Federal and Commonwealth inspectors also found that the wastewater pump station at the Mayaguez campus had been frequently discharging untreated sewage into nearby Oro Creek without a permit. In a separate enforcement action, EPA ordered UPR to bring the sanitary sewer system into compliance with Clean Water Act regulations.

EPA has inspected 58 colleges and universities and has issued administrative complaints with penalties totaling more than $2.6 million over the past four years against 20 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations anticipated.

More information on EPA’s Voluntary Audit Policy is available at http://www.epa.gov/region02/capp/cip/
The Web site for the Colleges and Universities Initiative is http://www.epa.gov/region02/p2/college

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