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Fact Sheet: EPA settlement with Airport Inn and Suites for CFC violations
Release Date: 2/27/2002
Release Date: 2/27/2002
Release Date: 2/27/2002
Release Date: 2/27/2002
1. What is EPA doing?
Filing a consent decree agreement for $100,000 against the former owner of Airport Inn and Suites hotel in Salt Lake City, Utah.
2. Why is EPA doing this?
EPA is taking action to enforce its Stratospheric Ozone Protection regulations and to protect the environment. The actions alleged were egregious in that hotel employee(s) intentionally cut the copper refrigerant lines in the appliances in order to facilitate disposal. Proper disposal would have involved arranging for a certified technician trained in air conditioning units to remove the CFCs in a manner that prevents release of such compounds to the air. The estimated cost of such certified handling of the air conditioning units is approximately $50 per unit. In part, EPA believes the hotel wanted to avoid such costs prior to disposal.
3. What did the local authorities do about this incident? Was it a violation of any local ordinance?
EPA believes that local ordinances prohibit such conduct, although these ordinances may not be as specific as the federal regulations. EPA will assist such local enforcement, as may be appropriate, and as requested, subject to resources, etc. EPA representatives did not directly witness the incident involved in this action. Local authorities including SLC Police and HazMat were present, and responded quickly and appropriately. SLC HazMat unit (Fire Dept.) did not take corrective action because the CFCs had already been vented to the environment prior to their arrival at the hotel.
4. What business do the Respondents conduct?
The Airport Inn and Suites is a hotel business in Salt Lake City, located at 2333 North South Temple, near the Airport. The hotel was apparently changing out older or ineffective/inefficient air conditioning and refrigerator units from the hotel rooms and replacing them with new units. Thus, while the hotel has many rooms, only 27 such appliances were involved in the incident. The settlement is with the former owner of the hotel. It has since changed ownership.
5. Did the CFCs venting and release cause any public health problems or negative environmental consequences?
While EPA is not aware of any direct human health effects from this incident (CFCs were not vented in any hotel room, rather in the hotel back storage lot), the CFCs vented by Airport Inn do have documented harmful effects on the environment, which in turn will have significant effects on human health. CFCs deplete the ozone (like oxygen we breath, but with an extra atom of Oxygen attached to make a group of 3 oxygen atoms in the molecule rather than the “normal” 2 atoms in the “O-2" we breath) in the upper atmosphere (stratosphere) by chemical action. Such ozone depletion is harmful because ozone blocks ultraviolet radiation coming from space. Congress in passing this portion of the Clean Air Act recognized the importance of the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere in blocking excess levels of this harmful UV radiation and therefore preventing such maladies as cataracts and skin cancer.
6. What type of CFC’s were released?
EPA has identified two categories of ozone-depleting compounds used as refrigerants in everyday appliances: so-called “Class I and Class II” types of refrigerants. Those on the Class I list are considered more harmful, in terms of destruction of atmospheric ozone. The air conditioners vented by the hotel in this action contained “R-22" CFCs, a Class II refrigerant, and the refrigerator units contained R-12 CFCs, which are Class I.
7. How was the final penalty amount determined?
The Clean Air Act presently gives EPA authority to propose penalties of up to $27,500 per violation per day. The final penalty amount depended on a variety of factors and conditions, and included recovery of any economic benefit that resulted from the company's failure to comply with the law. The company agreed to pay a penalty of $100,000
8. Will EPA shut the hotel down?
No. EPA does not intend to shut the hotel down. It is still operating under a new ownership. The proposed penalty assessed in the complaint has been calculated in accordance with the factors EPA must consider listed in the Clean Air Act. These include size of business and economic impact of the penalty on the business, but also the economic benefit of the non-compliance (money saved by avoiding the regulations.)
9. Is the hotel owner now complying with all applicable Ozone Protection regulations? If this was a “one-time” event, why are you issuing a compliance order - what can be done to fix it now, once the release has occurred?
EPA issued an Administrative Compliance Order to MBT and Lightfoot’s at the same time as the complaint. Through the ACO, EPA is requiring immediate compliance with the Ozone Protection regulations. EPA is not seeking any additional corrective actions because of the “one-time” nature of the violations (lines were cut and the CFCs vented immediately) and because the appliances were then disposed of. The ACO requires these parties to comply with these regulations for any future disposal of such appliances.
10. With such a large penalty, isn’t EPA just trying to make an example of this hotel? Other hotels probably do the same thing.
EPA is mandated to enforce its regulations and will take appropriate action against any violator, as the facts of each incident warrant. Depending on the evidence in each case, EPA would treat any other business the same for the same violations. The fact that penalties do have a deterrent effect on other potential violators is considered an important aspect of EPA’s enforcement program. These regulations have been in existence since the early 90s.
The penalty amount proposed in this action has been calculated in accordance with EPA’s written penalty policy specific for this program. Its calculation includes consideration of compliance history (repeated violations, etc.), good faith efforts to comply (none in this case) and seriousness of the violation, in addition to the factors previously mentioned, such as economic benefit, size of business, and economic impact on the business. For settlement purposes, EPA may revise the calculated penalty based on the receipt of additional information affecting these considerations.
11. If the action was intentional, as EPA’s alleged, why was the case not pursued as a criminal matter?
EPA’s regulations prohibiting venting and release of CFCs from such appliances specify that the violation must be “knowing.” EPA would have discretion to not prosecute an accidental release, unless culpable negligence were involved. EPA has prosecutorial discretion to bring this action either as civil or criminal. In this case, EPA is naming the company involved, rather than individuals.
12. The company claim they did not know the regulations and the appliances were not full of refrigerant at the time of disposal. How does EPA respond?
Companies are presumed to know the regulations that apply to them. The regulations to prevent release of refrigerant (CFCs) to the atmosphere from the handling or disposal of such appliances have been in existence since 1993. In addition, EPA believes the company was specifically informed of the requirements prior to the venting incident. In regard to the claim that the refrigerant was previously removed, the regulations require that in taking actions to dispose of small appliances like air conditioners, etc., the owner must document the prior disposal and verify that removal and recovery of the refrigerant was done properly (ie utilize certified technicians, with certified equipment to remove at least 80% of the refrigerant.) Respondents have not produced any such records to verify the proper prior removal and recovery of the refrigerant.
13. Is EPA basing its entire action on the assertions of a disgruntled former employee, which could have questionable reliability?
No. Information regarding this incident is available not only from a former employee of the hotel (who we would not characterize as “disgruntled”), but also from police reports and police and hazmat eye witness accounts and photographs gleaned from their arrival at the hotel at the time the incident was in progress. (They pretty much caught the hotel in the act.)
14. Who was the whistleblower that called 911 in this action?
EPA considers that information confidential and personal. However, the individual did the right thing to immediately inform the proper authorities regarding the actions of the hotel, and should be commended. As a result, the SLC police and HazMat units did respond and were able to prevent further venting of refrigerant. EPA has recommended the individual be compensated for the tip.
15. Why didn’t the State take this action?
EPA has direct federal enforcement authority for these regulations. To date, the State of Utah has not chosen to take its own action.
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