Archive for Sunday, August 3, 2008

EPA may fine KU for waste violations

Report: University repeating mistakes

KU violates EPA regulations for the second time in three years. The violations come from a December 2007 inspection.

August 3, 2008


Burn boxes, such as this one in a Malott Hall laboratory, are used to collect biohazard waste for incineration. The EPA is pursuing fines against Kansas University for failing to determine whether some solid waste may be hazardous and also operating as an unlicensed hazardous waste treatment facility.

Burn boxes, such as this one in a Malott Hall laboratory, are used to collect biohazard waste for incineration. The EPA is pursuing fines against Kansas University for failing to determine whether some solid waste may be hazardous and also operating as an unlicensed hazardous waste treatment facility.

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.

Past violations

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 response

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."


kusp8 9 years, 10 months ago

One of the few times I actually agree with Marion. Good call.

nobody1793 9 years, 10 months ago

The problem is that it comes down to students following the rules or not, and individual faculty making time out of their admittedly ridiculously busy schedules to enforce them. It is impossible for the University to babysit every lab. Students will be shocked when they get an industrial job or internship at how strict lab safety is in the liability-paranoid real world, and it would benefit students to learn these habits early on.

igby 9 years, 10 months ago

Their grads will carry these same work habits in to the bio-tech labs in Kansas, sooner or later, they will err and slopply release a dangerous agent into the only water supply we have.It's strange about that Army bio-chem terrorist that killed himself last week. How many more of them are out there that can do this kind of err.Support the EPA on this one and keep KU on it best training habits so these young bio-tech grads will learn good working knowledge of various agents.Do you mix bleach with Ammonia at home? I hope not.

Boeing 9 years, 10 months ago

Wait wait, but KU is a FRIEND of the environment, no? That's why they are making their employees sit in old, stuffy buildings at 78 degrees while it's 103 degrees out. :)

yourworstnightmare 9 years, 10 months ago

Get your stuff together, KU. Other universities do it. It might require an expenditure of resources, which I realize is anathema at KU. But, get it together.

Harper1249 9 years, 10 months ago

Marion I think you need to research the issue more. Your "letter" from EPA points out the fact you have no clue about how the EPA works. I think if you look at the record you will see that EPA has bent over backwards working KU and other colleges/universities in the area to try and get them to manage their hazardous waste properly. At what point is it appropriate to assess penalties to KU for these violations? Do we need a fire/explosion? Do we need someone to get injured or killed? I guarantee if that did happen, people would be complaining that EPA didn't do anything.

ASBESTOS 9 years, 10 months ago

Sorry to burst everyone's bubble here but htis is not new, and not specific to KU. It is however specific to Universities, going all the way back to 1992 with an EPA study showing that Universities were worse than many "Corporations" at handling haz wastes. Universities have some of the worst records dealing with "Hazardous wastes", and it is simply because of the number of laboratories, researchers, etc, whcih each could be a "small scale exempt" generotor, but together is probably over the limit of a large scale HazWaste generator under RCRA. (Not to mention the OSHA LAb Standard!) I can bet you that Mike Russell went around and around with the people running the labs, and my bet is that the "academics" ignored him.And to Marion, many grants and funding streams have gone to Universities, but we still have the same problem. And where is all that "Green" concerns. Recycling and recovery of hazWaste and from HazWaste sites is difficult at best, but most of the Profs don't know about the HazWaste laws and make the assumption that "they are handling it properly" within the confines of their lab, and not the combined effect of multiple labs.If this was a corporation the fines would be huge! And Yes, this is a university, however, most research is a Private Sector COmpany on campus funding the research for profit later, so yes they should be treated the same as a "research lab" in the corporate world.The Environment does not care where a contaminate or pollutant comes from, but does care as to the duration and concentration. So the asbestos coming from a "City Demo" to "Save Money" has no diffferent effect on humans or the environment than the "Private Sector Demo", i.e. the asbestos doesn't care where it came from.Same is true for the multitudes of chemicals, it matters not whether it came from the University, a liberal bastion, or republican capitalists or a corporation. Chemicals out of place in terms of time and concentration need to be controled, and contained. That is all the problem is, "a lack of control", which requires vigilance, and not "drive by environmentalism such as the greenies practice.This is the reason I was raising heck about the Architect Class that was using wood "recovered" from the SFAAP site from a powder magazine storage area. These guys only think about their projects or their research, and don;t give a hoot about the laws and regulations.Green is good, but you have to be able to handle the "Brown Issues" every time before you can "Go Green".

ASBESTOS 9 years, 10 months ago

EPA has been "Partnering with Polluters" since 192. That is when the current practice of "assisting polluters" started, and the Bush Admin just continued it.In the "Capitolistic System" only fines work. "Helping someone out" has only initiated the practice of "biolate til you get caught" and EPA will "assist you".This practice is rampant in asbestos regulation and is reflected in other regulations that effect "Brown" environmental issues that aren't as "sexy" as all the "Green" isssues.Look at "Barton Solvents" incidents in Valley Cneter, KS and then 2 months later in Des Monies, IA. 2 plants blew up under the direction of the same ciecumstances. EPA was supposed to have an EPCRA and RCRA regulations enforcement. However the lame-ohs at EPA only come out on "sure things" and carte more about the agency and their Civil Servant Careers than the mission of the agency.

TheOriginalCA 9 years, 10 months ago

As someone who is very critical of KU, I find these violations to be extremely minor in nature and almost petty.

Mkh 9 years, 10 months ago

The EPA has no problems with pollution or long as you pay the man first.

igby 9 years, 10 months ago

Oh!Don't mix the soft drink "squirt" with Mescal cacti juice thats been fermented. If you drink it while it's foaming it will remove your stomach lining.

bearded_gnome 9 years, 10 months ago

According to the 321-page inspection report, which the Journal-World obtained through a Freedom of Information request, EPA inspector Dedriel Newsome discoveredseveral open jugs of waste in Malott Hall that had not been properly labeled.---picky picky picky! who worries about open jugs of unknown waste. heck, just clean with it, or fertilize with it! ya know, those unlabeled jugs of unknown waste, you could go down to 11th and mass, sell them as a new drug. make some money, and poof, no disposal problem! and, "Dedriel" is that male or female? what nationality? never saw that name before. storing chemicals together that if mixed could cause explosion or fire ...d--n, I gotta move the baking soda away from the vinegar! and, amonia and bleach, Igby, you really are a killjoy, aren't you buddy! do I have to stop storing liter fluid next to charcoals for bbq? seriously, I am struck by the number of these violations, after those three prior EPA hits. I think epa is right to fine, since KU needs a little rattle to get its attention and change some things. methanol in the sewer? not good. could light the sewer on fire with that. and a sewer fire is no fun.

Thats_messed_up 9 years, 10 months ago

LOL more LacK of InstitUtional control--cheaters till the end.

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