On March 3, 2005. PAULA TRACY
of the NH Union Leader Newspaper (http://webarchive.unionleader.com), reported the Plymouth State University was hit with $171,050 EPA fine.
Saying Plymouth State University put its students at risk by failing to follow basic hazardous waste regulations, the Environmental Protection Agency has slapped the state institution with a $171,050 administrative fine.
The federal agency issued its claim of violation yesterday following a June 2003 inspection that found lab chemicals and art supplies not properly labeled or stored, said Bill Chin, enforcement counsel with the EPA's Boston office.
The complaint claims there was a hazardous materials emergency during the EPA's June 10 inspection. A box fell and emitted an acrid smell, which forced the evacuation of a building and a cleanup, the EPA says.
Michele Hutchins, a university spokesman, said there have been no cases of known contamination of students, faculty, staff or contractors nor any known spills or violation of air or wastewater law, other than what was cited in the EPA complaint. She said within a month, all the concerns the EPA pointed up were resolved, and said more than $52,000 has been spent to bring the university into compliance. Chin said there is no evidence to indicate the college was dumping hazardous waste illegally.
Hutchins said the university will work through the administrative process with counsel to see if an agreement can be reached, and Chin, too, said he hoped an agreement could be reached. An administrative judge within the EPA would determine the case if there is no agreement and an appeal, Chin said.
In January 2000, the University of New Hampshire at Durham was fined $49,000 and pledged in-kind projects to come up with a total fine of $229,000 for violations of hazardous waste laws, said Sheryl Rosner, spokesman for EPA Boston.
Since 1999, EPA New England has been cracking down on institutions of higher learning, after they found generally poor compliance during their visits.
Boston University has been similarly fined for an oil spill and violations of the Clean Water Act, while Massachusetts Institute of Technology has been cited for violations of the Clean Air Act. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has been similarly cited, she said.
Robert Varney, regional administrator of EPA's New England Office and former commissioner of the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, said "Plymouth State failed to follow basic hazardous waste regulations and put its students and employees at risk. . . The public and the environment will be safer when all schools are in compliance with our nation's environmental laws."
Hutchins said the inspection came at a time Boyd Hall, where most of the science courses are taught, was being renovated and materials were being moved back from a storage facility to the hall.
EPA workers found unlabeled or improperly labeled materials in the hazardous materials room, which was open to construction workers. The room contained heavy metal solutions, broken mercury thermometers and gunpowder.
This is the room where a cardboard box fell on the day of inspection and caused a hazardous material emergency, the complaint reads.
The federal agency found open containers of paint and cleaning chemicals and photographic lab materials at Draper and Maynard Art Building, which is the designated primary hazardous waste storage facility. There were no "no smoking" signs posted nor were there any emergency phone numbers in the event of contamination, the EPA claimed.
More than 125 self-disclosures have been received by institutions in the audit program.
"The safety of our students, faculty and staff has always been paramount. We have been diligent in our efforts to address the concerns noted in the complaint since the inspection almost two years ago," university President Donald Wharton said yesterday.
"The formal document was expected, and we are reviewing it thoroughly as we prepare to take the next step in working with the EPA through the process," he said.