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New York City Universities Will Help Area High Schools Become Better Environmental Stewards; Projects are Part of Consent Orders to Settle Past Hazardous Waste Violations

Release Date: 12/31/2003
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(#03147) New York, N.Y. - In separate agreements with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), three New York City universities, Columbia University, Long Island University (LIU) and Pratt Institute, have committed to conduct innovative hazardous waste management and education programs. EPA had cited the universities for violations of federal and state laws governing the safe handling and storage of hazardous waste. In addition to correcting their violations, the universities have agreed to carry out supplemental environmental projects (SEPs) environmentally beneficial projects that go beyond compliance with the law that improve conditions at the schools and benefit local high schools.

"Supplemental environmental projects are effective tools for settling violations because they support projects that produce additional environmental benefits," said Jane Kenny, EPA Regional Administrator. "In this case, the three universities will share their knowledge about the proper handling of hazardous waste with local high schools. This will have a ripple effect with a payoff each time a high school improves its environmental practices."

Columbia, LIU and Pratt will help educate high schools about environmental rules and regulations and help them develop practices that promote good environmental stewardship. Through education programs, they will teach high school faculty, custodial staff, administrators and students how to properly handle chemicals and solid and hazardous wastes in their laboratories, art studios, classrooms, maintenance facilities and other places in which students, faculty or staff might generate, handle and/or manage hazardous waste.

Columbia University has agreed to carry out three projects. First, the university will develop and implement an environmental management system to improve its policies, procedures and organizational structure, and better comply with environmental regulations. Second, Columbia will use new chemical inventory tracking procedures on its two main campuses, provide EPA with an evaluation of the system and make its evaluation available to other universities and the general public. Chemical inventory tracking can decrease the number and amount of chemicals purchased and stored in research institutions and reduce the risks associated with such storage. Third, Columbia will develop a best management practices and regulatory guidance manual and an interactive CD and video to provide high school teachers, custodial staff, administrators and students with the information they need to minimize the generation of hazardous waste, properly handle it, and understand its risks to human health and the environment. Columbia will also hold three seminars to help train relevant high school personnel in these matters. The educational materials will be provided in English and Spanish and will be made available to the public. In addition to complying with hazardous waste laws and conducting its three projects, Columbia will pay a civil penalty of $100,000 to settle EPA's complaint alleging violations on Columbia's campuses.

LIU's educational SEP will complement the Columbia effort and will also help high schools to improve their hazardous waste management practices and their compliance with regulatory requirements. Using the EPA accepted guidance materials developed by Columbia and Pratt, LIU will make presentations to high school teachers, custodial staff, administrators and students at compliance assistance seminars and reproduce and distribute compliance assistance materials, such as written materials, videos and CDs, in English and Spanish, to key personnel in high schools. The agreement signed by EPA and LIU stipulates that in addition to remaining in compliance with hazardous waste regulations and conducting its SEP, the university will pay a civil penalty of $33,000 to settle EPA's complaint alleging violations at LIU's Brooklyn campus.

Pratt has agreed to conduct two SEPs. First, Pratt will upgrade its paint spray booths at its Brooklyn campus and replace the existing spray guns in its industrial design, sculpture/plastics and ceramics studios with high volume low pressure guns. These changes will reduce by half the amount of paint and solvent used and hazardous waste generated in these studios. In addition, Pratt will increase the efficiency of the screen cleaning process used in its print-making operation. For its second project, Pratt will develop a best management practices and regulatory guidance manual for high school art teachers, staff, administrators and students to show them how to develop environmentally sensitive procedures and properly handle hazardous waste. The free manual will explain how to identify hazardous waste, safely use and store chemicals, and manage and dispose of hazardous waste with particular focus on situations normally faced by high school art departments. The manual will be translated into Spanish. Pratt will develop and conduct at least one seminar for high school art teachers, custodial and maintenance personnel and administrators. The agreement signed by Pratt and EPA stipulates that in addition toremaining in compliance with hazardous waste regulations and conducting the two SEPs, Pratt will pay a civil penalty of $40,000 to settle EPA's complaint.

Over the past 20 months, EPA has inspected more than thirty-six colleges and universities and issued administrative complaints alleging hazardous waste violations at twelve colleges and universities in New Jersey and New York with proposed penalties totaling more than $2 million.

EPA established a program to assist colleges and universities in 1999 because it found that many were not aware of their responsibilities under various environmental laws. As part of the program, EPA sent letters to 365 colleges and universities in New Jersey, New York, and Puerto Rico informing them of EPA's Voluntary Audit Policy. The agency 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 therisk of financial penalties were starting in 2001. EPA encouraged, and continues to encourage, institutions to use 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.

To date, 27 colleges and universities in New York, New Jersey and Puerto Rico have come forward to disclose more than 50 violations to EPA. Most of them have been granted a 100% waiver of certain penalties totaling more than $2.4 million.

EPA has signed self-audit agreements with Rutgers University, the State University of New York (SUNY), Syracuse University, the City University of New York, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, Clarkson University, Canisius College, Pace University, Seton Hall University, Hofstra University, St. John's University, St. Lawrence University and Rockefeller University in which those schools have committed to self- audit, disclosure and remediation schedules in exchange for the benefits of the Voluntary Audit Policy. The Colleges and Universities Program is an ongoing effort since so many colleges and universities have had serious hazardous waste violations.