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Queens, N.Y. Dry Cleaner Faces $134,988 Penalty for Environmental Violations

Release Date: 04/12/2001
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(#01033) New York, N.Y. -- White-Sun Cleaners Corporation, which operates a large dry cleaning and laundering facility at 47-38 through 47-46 34th Street in Long Island City, New York, faces $134,988 in penalties from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violations of environmental regulations. Most of EPA's ten counts against White-Sun and its president, Insun Yun, involve the mismanagement of hazardous wastes containing tetrachloroethylene, or Aperc@ B the most widely-used cleaning chemical in the dry cleaning industry.

"The conditions our inspectors observed at this facility were very troubling," said William J. Muszynski, EPA Acting Regional Administrator. AIt is widely known - especially within the dry cleaning industry B that perc evaporates very easily into the air and can cause significant damage to humans if inhaled over long periods of time. There is no excuse for dry cleaners to ignore the federal, state and local regulations that were put into place to protect their workers and the surrounding community from the potentially toxic effects of this chemical.@

EPA inspected the Long Island City facility in August 2000 and observed many conditions that violated both federal and state hazardous waste regulations. Among them: 19 improperly-labeled containers holding perc waste, many of which were open; containers, equipment, walls and floors that were visibly contaminated with perc waste; and a dry cleaning machine that was leaking sludge containing perc. After the inspection, EPA sent a letter to White-Sun informing the company of its violations and requesting more information about its hazardous waste activities, to which White-Sun did not respond.

EPA's charges include: improperly allowing a significant amount of perc wastewater to evaporate into the air every month; storing at least 19 containers of perc waste that were not properly marked, many of which were stored for longer than permitted; failing to keep 13 containers holding perc hazardous waste closed (except when waste is added or removed); improperly storing lint contaminated with perc in a cardboard box; failing to minimize releases of perc into the air; failing to respond to an EPA request for information even after a second notice; not determining whether fluorescent lightbulbs were hazardous waste before disposing of them; and not familiarizing local emergency responders with the layout of and chemicals at the facility in the event of an accident. EPA also charged that White-Sun failed to notify the agency that it was managing hazardous wastes at its current location B a lapse that under other circumstances, might have shielded the facility from routine environmental inspection.

In addition to seeking the $134,988 penalty, EPA has ordered White-Sun to immediately comply with regulations concerning the labeling, storage and treatment of perc wastes, and to ensure that routine spills or leaks of perc wastes do not occur. The agency has also ordered the company to make additional changes in its operations to fully comply with all hazardous waste management regulations.

White-Sun reported sales in 1998 of $890,000, and employs approximately 40 people.

Since 1996, EPA's Region 2 office has offered compliance assistance B in the form of free seminars, multilingual literature and offers to review facility operations with temporary amnesty from penalties B to over 400 dry cleaners in the New York City area and New Jersey to help the industry better comply with environmental regulations. EPA also issued Notices of Violations that required companies to make improvements, but did not levy penalties. Since there has been ample time for dry cleaners to comply since EPA began reaching out to the industry, the agency has shifted its focus to inspections and when necessary, enforcement. Companies like White-Sun now face monetary penalties and orders to immediately come into compliance. Since January 2000, the agency has issued complaints seeking a total of $452,113 from violating dry cleaners in New York and New Jersey. It is still in dry cleaners'  best interest, however, to contact EPA for compliance assistance. EPA's Dry Cleaning Compliance Assistance number is (212) 637-4050.