When facing an inspection and possible enforcement actions from the US EPA or their state regulatory agency a hazardous waste generator may wonder, “Why me?  Why don’t they go after one of those big companies like BP, DuPont, or Goodyear Tire?   Better yet, why not go after the companies that I pay so dearly to dispose of my hazardous waste?”  You needn’t think the EPA has it out for the little guy.  They frequently inspect the larger hazardous waste generators and those disposal companies (known as Transfer Storage and Disposal Facilities, or TSDF’s).

One example is the recent settlement reached between Clean Harbors of Braintree, Inc. in Braintree, MA and the US Environmental Protection Agency and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).  Announced on August 15th 2011, the settlement has its genesis in a site inspection conducted by both agencies in June of 2007.  In the settlement, Clean Harbors agreed to pay a $650,000 penalty, spend an additional $1,062,500 on a Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP), comply with an enhanced waste analysis plan, and install and maintain a vapor collection system for its hazardous waste storage tanks to control the emissions of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC’s).

The SEP requires Clean Harbors to plant 1,400 trees in low-income areas of the City of Boston over a two-year period.  I don’t think I’m being overly cynical to believe that Clean Harbors will make no mention of the settlement and the SEP when it begins planting the trees.  They will likely promote it as a “Green Initiative” on their part because they so love the environment and the people of Boston.  But hey, I digress.  Back to the settlement.

The enhanced waste analysis plan agreed to by Clean Harbors goes above and beyond what is required by the regulations and its existing permit.  This along with the vapor collection system for VOC’s referenced above will reduce the facility’s environmental impact relative to its competitors.  Here as well, watch for Clean Harbors to spin these actions as a reflection of its commitment as a “Green Company”.  No mention of the fact that these actions were mandated by a settlement that only exists because of its violation of the regulations.

US EPA identified close to thirty violations during its June 2007 inspection of both the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA, the source of hazardous waste management regulations) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (EPCRA).  Violations included:

  • Inadequate waste characterization.
  • Failure to properly maintain hazardous waste tanks.
  • Inadequate secondary containment.
  • Improper storage of incompatible wastes.

As noted earlier MassDEP took part in the initial inspection.  It also provided support to the US EPA during the settlement process.  Please note that the MassDEP issued a separate consent order which required Clean Harbors to replace all of its old storage tanks and implement other infrastructure upgrades at the facility.  I can only assume that the costs for these structural improvements are in addition to the $1.7 million spent on the fines and SEP imposed by the US EPA.

What lessons should a hazardous waste generator draw from an enforcement action of this type?

  1. All companies – big and small – involved in the generation or management of hazardous waste are subject to agency inspection and fines.
  2. The costs of non-compliance may advance well beyond monetary fines, and extend into SEP’s or other requirements (such as infrastructure improvements).
  3. State regulatory agencies (MassDEP in this case), may take the initiative on inspection and enforcement or work with the US EPA.

The first step in maintaining compliance is to know the state and federal regulations applicable to your facility.

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