The Environmental Protection Agency says Kansas University has violated EPA regulations for the second time in three years - and it's threatening fines for those misdeeds.
David Bryan, EPA region seven spokesman, said there was particular concern with KU's recent violations.
"When you find the same things, it shows there is a pattern," Bryan said. "It shows there really haven't been institutional things done to correct the problem."
Multiple potential violations were discovered in various Lawrence-campus labs during an inspection on Dec. 12, 2007, including:
¢ Failing to determine if some wastes produced by the school were hazardous.
¢ Allowing incompatible chemicals to be stored on the same shelf.
¢ Operating as a hazardous waste treatment facility without a permit.
In particular, problems were identified in Malott Hall, Haworth Hall and the Pharmaceutical Chemistry Lab on West Campus.
According to the 321-page inspection report, which the Journal-World obtained through a Freedom of Information request, EPA inspector Dedriel Newsome discovered several open jugs of waste in Malott Hall that had not been properly labeled.
In the report, Newsome noted an open 4-liter bottle labeled "biotage waste" rather than hazardous waste. The report also noted several other wastes that had not been determined hazardous or nonhazardous. Several university employees were unable to identify several unlabeled bottles that possibly contained hazardous wastes and chemicals.
During the inspection, inspectors noted several sets of chemicals near one another in storage units that, if mixed, could result in violent chemical reactions including fires and explosion.
Newsome also noted a professor disposing about one to two liters of a 50 percent methanol cleaning solution into the city sewers. According to the EPA, ingestion of methanol can be toxic in humans. When asked if KU had permission to dispose of the chemical in the sewer, school officials responded that they did not know of any.
Jeanette Klamm, city utilities program manager, said any effect a chemical dumped down the drain would have on the water supply would have a lot to do with the amount of the chemical and if it were all dumped at once. However, she said it went without saying that the city didn't want any sort of potentially dangerous item going into its system.
According to the report, Newsome also discovered that rags dipped in chemicals used to clean parts were being treated on site without a permit. The residue on the rags would be evaporated under a hood and then disposed of in the regular trash. Despite evaporation, Newsome wrote that these rags should still be designated hazardous waste.
The most recent violations are not the first in recent years for KU.
In 2005, KU was also cited for failing to determine if some university-produced wastes were hazardous. In its response to the EPA, KU officials tested the waste, and everything was proven to be nonhazardous. The university was cited for the same problem in 2000 and 1994. Even if the waste eventually passed muster, Bryan said, it was important for KU to test the material and label immediately to avoid confusion or harm.
KU had not been fined for its past violations, Bryan said, likely because the university was able to correct the problems shortly after the inspection. However, he said the repeat nature of the violations means that this time fines are "pretty much a given."
University spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said the school would not comment on the specifics of the 2007 report and the EPA's charge that KU is a repeat offender because no official report - or fines - have been issued. The EPA notified the university of 24 observed violations - copies of which were obtained by the Journal-World. They are not final, however, until a final report is issued.
"It wouldn't be responsible to discuss these issues at this point in time," Bretz said.
She did say university officials took the report seriously and were working with the EPA to rectify any violations.
Bryan said university officials were negotiating with the EPA on the extent of penalties KU would face.
Mike Russell, director of Environment, Health and Safety for KU, similarly declined to comment on the inspection other than to confirm the university was still in talks with the EPA. He called the inspection and negotiations "fairly common."
During the negotiation process, university officials either offer up evidence that they had not violated any regulation (testing unknown metals from a lathe machine and finding out they are brass and copper for example) or are working to fix existing problems.
"That isn't to say the university won't get out without some punishment," Bryan said. "However, our main concern is that they fix the problems and make it safer for the people in these buildings."
Bryan said organizations that have repeat offenses tend to face harsher consequences.
No timeline has been set for negotiations and official filing of violations.
"These things work as they work," Bryan said.
Common, yet dangerous
Kevin Mouser, vice president of the College and University Hazardous Waste Conference, said that while unlabeled and open hazardous waste containers were common violations, it could still have serious repercussions.
"There are some wastes that could spend years in the open air, and nothing would happen and they wouldn't pose any danger," he said. "There are others that exposure to air could warm them enough to create an explosion."
He said these unknowns made it important to keep all wastes labeled. It is especially critical in academics, he said, because members of the public are more likely to come in contact with unlabeled waste at a university than at a private industry.
Mike Lonon, manager of hazardous materials for Cornell University and president of the hazardous waste conference, echoed Mouser but said the scale of some university's work made complete compliance impossible.
"In general, universities are mostly in compliance with a wide range of regulations," Lonon said. "But the myriad activities and sheer scale of some schools make absolute, 100 percent compliance all the time a practical impossibility."