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Brown University and EPA Settle Enforcement Case; Innovative Environmental Projects for Providence High Schools Part of Agreement

Release Date: 11/27/2001
Contact Information: Mark Merchant, EPA Press Office (617) 918-1013

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Brown University today settled an enforcement case with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by agreeing to fund $285,000 of innovative environmental projects – including pollution prevention programs at four Providence high schools – and pay a civil penalty of nearly $80,000.

"This settlement will lead to significant environmental benefits that extend far beyond Brown University's campus," said Robert W. Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office. "High schools in Rhode Island will see a real benefit from the projects Brown will perform because of this enforcement case."

This settlement stems from violations EPA inspectors discovered during a May 1999 visit to the campus. According to an EPA complaint filed in November 2000, the 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 identified that 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 other spills in the several years prior to EPA's 1999 inspection.

"Colleges and universities are often the size of a town or even a small city and because of the nature of their business – teaching and research – they use large amounts of hazardous materials and generate large amounts of hazardous wastes," Varney said. "It doesn't matter that they are an educational institution. Their hazardous material and hazardous waste can do just as much damage to the environment."

Under the terms of the settlement, Brown University will pay a civil penalty of $79,858 to settle violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, or RCRA, and the federal Clean Water Act.

Even more important are the three components of the so-called supplemental environmental project Brown University has agreed to in order to resolve these complaints. The project will cost an estimated $285,000 and will involve:

    • converting labs at Brown and four Providence area high schools from traditional labs to labs that use a "microscaling" technique by 2003. Microscaling provides a less-is-better approach to high school chemical experiments and leads to fewer and often less hazardous chemicals being purchased for experiments and ultimately less waste.
    • implementing purchasing and inventory tracking systems for Brown and the four high schools. A centralized inventory system prevents the purchasing of too many chemicals and may uncover inappropriate storage of chemicals.
    • Funding a one-time cleanout of the schools that will properly dispose of chemical or hazardous wastes that may present an environmental threat.
"Brown University's decision to support environmental programs and training at the Providence public high schools as a part of its supplemental environmental project with the EPA provides a major and most welcome benefit for our school system," said Diana Lam, superintendent of Providence Schools. "Their presence and support of these initiatives in the area of environmental safety and training will serve to expand learning opportunities for both teachers and students and will greatly advance our efforts to sustain an improved and safe learning environment in our science programs. I want to commend and personally thank Brown University for its assistance."

Varney said, "Colleges and universities need to be responsible in their handling of hazardous waste, and Brown is striving to achieve that goal. But the university is also using this enforcement case to create environmental initiatives above and beyond what is required. This is what positive and constructive enforcement, not only with colleges and universities but across the board, is all about."

Brown is one of eight universities in New England which EPA has taken enforcement action against and either proposed or levied penalties. After finding widespread non-compliance with environmental laws at universities and colleges, EPA New England in 1999 launched an initiative environmental compliance at college campuses. 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.

In launching the effort, EPA sent letters to the presidents of all 282 colleges and universities in New England, including the president of 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 a dozen workshops and conferences to help universities come into compliance. EPA held a workshop on Oct. 23, 2001 at Colby College with simultaneous video-conferencing at four other Vermont colleges. This workshop has been videotaped for future reference.

The agency has also created a university compliance web page, which can be visited at www.epa.gov/region01/assistance/univ/

Among the campuses where EPA has levied or proposed fines are the University of Rhode Island, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the US Coast Guard Academy, the University of New Hampshire, U. Mass/Amherst, Boston University and Yale University.