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Release Date: 01/07/2000
Contact Information: Amy Miller, EPA Press Office (617-918-1042)

BOSTON - The University of New Hampshire this week agreed to pay $49,000 and conduct environmental improvements worth about $180,000 to settle claims by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the university violated federal and state hazardous waste management laws.

In a consent agreement filed this week, UNH agreed to design an extensive system to manage chemicals the university uses and stores. In addition, the university promised to document that it has trained personnel in hazardous waste management and performed inspections of all areas where hazardous wastes are stored.

The consent agreement follows an enforcement action issued in March by EPA's New England office. The action, which cited the university for 15 separate counts of violations of state and federal hazardous waste management laws, was part of a multifaceted effort designed to bring all New England colleges and universities into compliance with federal environmental laws.

The Chemical Environmental Management System UNH agreed to implement will include a bar-coded inventory of all existing and newly purchased chemicals on campus, a revised purchasing strategy in which all chemicals will be purchased through the university's purchasing department and a waste tracking system. In addition, the plan will include waste minimization strategies.

The waste inventory system will ensure chemicals are not stored indefinitely on campus, with professors and researchers receiving quarterly reports on chemicals in their laboratories approaching expiration dates. New purchasing practices will enable the minimum amount of chemicals to be purchased, rather than a larger volume.

The strategy to minimize waste also includes programs to eliminate the use of mercury on campus and to reduce chemical use in teaching laboratories, where appropriate.

"Since EPA's 1997 inspection, UNH has moved forward quickly and responsibly to correct prior violations," said John P. DeVillars, EPA's New England Administrator. "With this settlement, the university has taken steps to further protect the public health and safety of students and staff on campus"

UNH was the third university in New England to be hit with an enforcement action in the last four years, and EPA is working on actions against other universities that have violated environmental laws. EPA's New England Office has also taken actions against Yale University and Boston University (BU) for violations of hazardous waste management laws and the Clean Water Act. Since this complaint was filed in March, EPA New England has conducted investigations at several other campuses in the region.

The action against UNH stemmed from a three-day inspection in July 1997 that found violations of the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act at various UNH laboratories and storage facilities in Durham, NH.

Some of the violations at UNH, such as storing incompatible hazardous wastes near each other without any means of separation, could have resulted in fires or explosions. Other violations, such as pouring treated mercury waste down a drain without first ensuring that the waste was treated to proper standards, could have resulted in the improper release of hazardous waste. The university also left outside and in unsecured locations large stockpiles of used fluorescent bulbs, which contain mercury above regulatory limits.

UNH generates hazardous waste in its research and teaching laboratories, printing facilities, building and fleet maintenance facilities, and art studio, according to EPA. The violations were an indication that, at the time of the inspection, the university was not putting enough resources into meeting its environmental obligations. The agency said that there was only one person at the university who was responsible for managing hazardous waste.

EPA-New England's multi-faceted initiative targeting institutions of higher education has involved extensive compliance assistance activities, including workshops, as well as a targeted enforcement sweep of selected New England campuses beginning last spring.

The agency's university strategy has had two key elements: workshops and other tools to help universities improve their environmental performance; and special deployment of EPA enforcement field inspectors to concentrate on New England colleges and universities.

Many of the facilities on university campuses, including labs, power plants and vehicle maintenance facilities, have the potential to cause serious environmental and public health problems if they are not properly managed.

When DeVillars announced the initiative to college and university presidents in March, he made it clear these institutions will be held to the same standards as private industry.

"Responsible businesses learned long ago that good environmental performance is a sound business practice," DeVillars said. "It is a sound practice for a university as well."

DeVillars also stressed EPA's commitment to helping universities come into compliance with state and federal environmental laws and invited university officials to attend workshops focused on environmental compliance at colleges and universities. More than 300 attended workshops held in Boston, Mass., and Kittery, Maine, last year.

"Many university leaders have heeded our warning and taken steps to ensure they are in compliance with environmental laws," said DeVillars. "These leaders know that sound environmental management does more than protect the environment: it holds down tuition and fee increases and creates an image for higher education institutions that applicants find desirable. These leaders also set an example for their students and the communities."