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Utuado Allowed Spills of Used Oil at Municipal Motorpool Facility; EPA seeking $63,000 Penalty

Release Date: 12/11/2000
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(#00221) San Juan, Puerto Rico -- After three inspections of the Utuado Municipal Motorpool facility at Carretera 111, Km. 3.1 in Utuado, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has charged the municipality with several violations of regulations designed to prevent and clean up releases of used oil into the environment. The agency is seeking a penalty of $63,248 for violations it observed at the facility and for its failure to respond promptly to an EPA request for information.

EPA first inspected the facility at which Utuado maintains its motor vehicles in February 1997. Inspectors noticed used oil from oil changes in pools on the ground, in a truck service area inside the facility, and flowing from a pipe down the side of a hill. EPA also noticed several 55-gallon drums at the motorpool facility that had been used to store used oil, which were not labeled with the words "Used Oil." These conditions violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the law that regulates how hazardous waste and used oil are handled. EPA sent a notice to Utuado in April 1997 informing it of its violations, and formally asked for more information about how the facility handled used oil. After receiving no response, in June, the agency sent an overdue notice to Utuado, to which there was no response until October of that year another RCRA violation. The agency filed a formal complaint against the municipality in 1997 for these violations, but due to a legal technicality, withdrew the complaint in September 2000. In the interim, EPA continued to focus on the facility's compliance with environmental regulations and made a second inspection in January 2000. At that time, EPA again noted the presence of used oil on the ground, on several areas of the facility floor and next to a water drainage system flowing toward the Vivi River; 24 drums of used oil were not labeled "Used Oil."

At the time of the third inspection in May 2000, the facility had been cleaned up, but EPA again noticed that several drums were not properly marked. EPA issued a new updated complaint against Utuado incorporating the violations identified during the recent inspections.

"Utuado unfortunately made little effort to prevent releases of used oil into the environment at this facility," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Regional Administrator. "After our first inspection in 1997, one would assume that Utuado would make every attempt to clean up its act. The fact that we continued to observe the same situation a full three years later is disheartening. In issuing this complaint and seeking a monetary penalty from the Utuado, we intend not only to penalize, but to deter the municipality from violating environmental laws in the future."

RCRA requires facilities that deal with used oil to stop a release of the oil, contain it, clean it up and manage it properly. To prevent the possible mishandling of containers holding used oil, RCRA also requires entities like Utuado to clearly mark such containers with the words "Used Oil." EPA has ordered the municipality to immediately label all containers holding used oil correctly, and within 30 days, to clean up any releases of the product that might have occurred.

Used oil can contain a significant amount of toxic chemicals including arsenic, lead, benzene (a known carcinogen) and tetrachloroethylene. Used oil that is released into the environment can contaminate soil with these chemicals. In some cases, the groundwater underlying the soil -- which is often used by people as drinking water and usually flows in the direction of rivers and streams -- can also become contaminated, harming both people and aquatic ecosystems.