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Vassar and EPA Reach Agreement on Hazardous Waste Violations; Vassar will pay penalty and conduct hazardous waste management education programs for colleges, universities and high schools

Release Date: 10/13/2004
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(#04156) NEW YORK -- Vassar College Exit EPA disclaimerin Poughkeepsie, New York, has signed an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pay a $43,087 penalty and carry out two supplemental environmental projects as a settlement for hazardous waste violations at the college. Vassar agreed to go beyond complying with environmental law by installing pollution reduction equipment in its biology and chemistry labs and conducting seminars and workshops for colleges, universities and high schools to help them avoid hazardous waste violations.

"This agreement with Vassar College has far-reaching environmental benefits," said Jane M. Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "Not only will Vassar improve the environment on its campus, it will also help improve the environment at other educational institutions by educating them."

In the first of two supplemental environmental projects, Vassar agreed to install equipment in its chemistry and biology laboratories to significantly reduce the solvent waste generated in those labs. The second project promotes compliance with hazardous waste regulations at other educational institutions. Vassar will produce instructional materials and conduct hazardous waste management seminars for colleges, universities and high schools. The seminars will provide training in "green chemistry," a waste minimization and pollution prevention program, the safe use and proper storage of laboratory chemicals and how to deal with hazardous wastes.

EPA had cited Vassar for violating federal and state hazardous waste regulations . The complaint alleged that, among other violations, Vassar did not determine if the waste it generated was hazardous, failed to properly train campus staff on hazardous waste management, did not make the appropriate arrangements with local emergency response teams and hospitals and did not handle the hazardous waste to minimize the risk of fire, explosion or its release into the environment. The college has since complied with these requirements.

EPA established its Colleges and Universities Initiative in 1999 because it found that many such institutions were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws. As part of the initiative, EPA sent letters to colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico; held free workshops to help colleges and universities comply; set up a Web site that provides information about their duties under the law; and warned them that EPA inspections of their facilities with the risk of financial penalties were imminent. EPA encouraged the institutions to avail themselves of the agency's Voluntary Audit Policy, through which institutions can investigate and disclose violations to the agency and, if the necessary conditions are met, receive a partial or complete reduction in financial penalties.

EPA continues to encourage colleges and universities to participate in the Colleges and Universities Initiative. To date, 76 colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have come forward to disclose more than 900 violations to EPA. Most of them have been granted a 100% waiver of certain penalties totaling more than $5 million.

Since the beginning of the initiative, EPA has inspected 51 colleges and universities and has issued administrative complaints with penalties totaling more than $2.7 million against 16 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York and Puerto Rico. The Colleges and Universities Initiative is an ongoing program with additional investigations anticipated.