Date: Mon, 13 Dec 2004 13:14:38 -0500
Reply-To: Ralph Stuart <rstuart**At_Symbol_Here**>
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From: Ralph Stuart <rstuart**At_Symbol_Here**>
Subject: Colleges May Get a Break on Hazardous-Waste Rules
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This story is from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

- Ralph

From the issue dated December 17, 2004

Colleges May Get a Break on Hazardous-Waste Rules
Proposed change by EPA follows crackdown and years of lobbying by institutions

Map: Showing waste-management penalties at colleges


In 1997 inspectors from the U.S. Environmental
Protection Agency visited the University of
Hawaii and found thousands of containers of
hazardous chemicals stashed in an old fallout
shelter beneath the Manoa campus's main chemistry
building. The agency fined the university for
violating the Resource Conservation and Recovery
Act, the federal law governing hazardous-waste
management on college campuses. After
negotiations, the university agreed to pay
$1.7-million, the largest federal hazardous-waste
fine ever paid by a college.

Since then, the EPA has inspected scores of
laboratories, art studios, and photography labs
at more than 300 small and large colleges and
issued $8-million in penalties and environmental
projects through its College and University
Initiative, a campus-by-campus crackdown that
started in the Northeast in 1999 and has
gradually spread throughout the country. EPA
officials say that the enforcement effort, while
at times uneven, is necessary to bring delinquent
campuses into compliance with federal
environmental laws.

But college leaders say the majority of the
violations at universities are administrative,
not substantive, and typically cause little or no
actual environmental harm. They blame the
industry-oriented resource-conservation law for
their failures, and have lobbied vigorously for
years for regulatory relief from the law. They
may soon get it.

A rule change the EPA is scheduled to issue in
the next several months would shift the burden
for identifying hazardous waste from professors
and graduate students to
environmental-health-and-safety personnel,
allowing colleges to make hazardous-waste
determinations in central accumulation areas
rather than in laboratories. It would also allow
college laboratories to store hazardous materials
for longer periods of time and treat some waste
on-site without a permit, reducing the amount
that must be shipped off-site.

Supporters say the changes could help standardize
practices across campuses, making it easier to
comply with federal standards when researchers
move between colleges in different regions.

"We're 180 degrees from an industrial operation,
which the regulations were written to address,"
said Roy Y. Takekawa, the
environmental-health-and-safety director at the
University of Hawaii-Manoa. "If we can get some
changes, it might make it easier in the future."

The Crackdown

The EPA's College and University Initiative began
in the Northeast's Region 1 after inspectors
picked up on a pattern of violations during
visits to Boston University, the Massachusetts
Institute of Technology, the University of New
Hampshire, and Yale University. The inspectors
proposed an approach that would combine
enforcement with compliance assistance, and their
bosses agreed. Four other EPA regions quickly
followed suit.

In 2000 the EPA devoted an issue of its
Enforcement Alert newsletter to colleges and
universities. The front-page headline warned:
"EPA holding educational institutions to same
standards as industry."

But the EPA headquarters in Washington never
coordinated the crackdown for its field offices,
and some regions have been much more aggressive
than others. The most punitive have been those
with a high concentration of college campuses,
including the coastal regions covering New
England, New York, and New Jersey, the
mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Southwest; the least
have been Regions 8 and 10, which cover the
Western States.

Colleges in "some regions will say, 'Oh, we have
no trouble,'" says Anne Gross, vice president for
regulatory affairs for the National Association
of College and University Business Officers. But
institutions in other areas "will say, 'That's
not what they say in my region.'"

Agency inspectors say the most common violations
involve failure to label containers properly;
failure to inspect hazardous-waste containers
weekly; failure to train laboratory workers;
failure to minimize risk of fire or explosion;
and improper disposal of hazardous materials.

The inspectors say most violations occur because
colleges do not devote sufficient resources to
their environmental-health-and-safety
departments. At some smaller colleges, they say,
hazardous-waste disposal is handled by the
sanitation and janitorial departments, or by
campus police. Larger colleges, meanwhile, may
fail to designate one person to oversee their
multiple environmental-health-and-safety

Russ Schaff, the facility health-and-safety
coordinator at Washington State University, says
that when his university was inspected in 1992,
hazardous waste was handled by himself, a
radiation-safety employee, and a fire chief who
doubled as a police officer. The university later
hired four employees to handle hazardous waste.

Other colleges conclude that the risk of being
inspected is low and "roll the dice," says Peggy
Bagnoli, the EPA's liaison to academe. "There are
only so many EPA people out there, and they can't
inspect everyone, so they say, 'I'll take my

In some cases, violations occur when professors
do not take waste management seriously, says
Kenneth B. Rota, the chief enforcement officer in
Region 1. "Professors don't like to be told what
to do in their labs. It's their kingdom," Mr.
Rota says.

When inspectors do find a violation, they
calculate a fine that is often negotiated down by
colleges. One way they do that is by proposing a
so-called Supplemental Environmental Project,
like the Environmental Virtual Campus at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is a
Web site that lets college employees and others
navigate a virtual laboratory, a medical area, an
art studio, and a waste-storage facility to
identify the federal regulatory requirements.
Typically, the EPA will reduce the monetary fine
by $1 for each dollar invested in an
environmental project.

In rarer cases, colleges may challenge the
penalty in court. Few colleges choose this route,
though, because the legal fees are often higher
than the penalties, says Barry M. Hartman, an
attorney who often represents the American
Council on Education. But Mr. Hartman says that
by not contesting the penalties, colleges may
have made themselves "easy targets" for the

"If you put a policeman in the back of your car,
sooner or later he is going to give you a
ticket," he says.

Rethinking the Law

Enacted in 1976, the Resource Conservation and
Recovery Act has always been an awkward fit for
academe, which produces less than 1 percent of
the nation's hazardous waste. Written with
industry in mind, the law was tailored to
large-scale producers of select types of
hazardous waste, like petroleum and metals
manufacturers. The result, critics say, was a
"fundamental mismatch" between the law and
college campuses, which produce smaller
quantities, but larger varieties, of hazardous

While industrial plants are typically
centralized, college campuses tend to consist of
many individual labs, art and photography
studios, and hospitals run by individual
professors and students. At some larger
universities, each college has its own
environmental-health-and-safety department, with
its own budget. This decentralized structure,
coupled with high student turnover, makes it
difficult for colleges to put in place uniform
waste-management practices, critics of the law

The proposed rule change from the EPA would move
the hazardous-waste determination out of the
laboratory and into a central waste-accumulation

"It would take the burden off laboratory
personnel," says Bruce D. Backus, assistant vice
chancellor for environmental health and safety at
Washington University in St. Louis and chairman
of a committee that is working with the EPA on
the rule change. "You would have better quality

Under the proposal, students and professors would
simply label used chemicals "laboratory waste,"
and leave it to the
environmental-health-and-safety personnel to code
the waste as "hazardous," and dispose of it
according to federal requirements. Mr. Backus
said the shift could also lead to greater waste
recycling, since environmental-health-and-safety
personnel are often know the chemical needs of
other laboratories.

The new regulations would also give universities
the authority to treat wastes on campus without
obtaining a permit and give laboratories 30 days,
rather than the current three, to remove
hazardous waste once the 55-gallon limit has been
met. Many colleges have complained that it is
difficult to predict when accumulation limits
will be reached and arrange for a pickup within
three days.

Test Campuses

Some of the rule changes are being tested on
three New England campuses chosen for their clean
environmental records: the University of Vermont,
the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and
Boston College.

At Boston College, evidence of the test can be
seen in the bright-yellow labels affixed to the
bottles for collecting acetone, methylene
chloride, and other hazardous wastes from the
chemistry department's experiments. Instead of
"hazardous waste" at the top, the label reads
"laboratory waste."

Although seemingly superficial, this semantic
shift signifies a major change in laboratory
protocol, says Gail Hall, the college's
environmental-health-and-safety officer. It means
that professors and students are no longer
responsible for determining whether the waste is
hazardous, a task that now falls to Ms. Hall.

Ms. Hall says the change has taken some of the
administrative burden off professors, allowing
them to focus on their research. "Their mission
is to do research to get more grant money and
graduate students," she says. "Their job is

The pilot project also required Boston College to
develop an "environmental management plan"
describing how the college would meet a series of
minimum performance criteria established by the
EPA. That requirement, while not part of the
proposed rule change, has allowed the college to
coordinate compliance with federal environmental
laws and overlapping regulations from the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

Excluded from the rule change are some proposals
sought by college lobbyists that will have to
wait to be considered as part of the agency's
broader review of the resource-conservation law,
which began last spring.

Those changes would help the movement and
consolidation of waste on campuses that are
bisected by public roads. They also would allow
smaller colleges to occasionally exceed the waste
limit for the "small quantity generator"
categories without being kicked into the "large
quantity generator" group, which carries
additional regulatory requirements.

John DeLaHunt, assistant director for
environmental health-and-safety services at
Colorado College, says those changes would make a
much bigger difference for small colleges than
the proposed tweaks, since many smaller colleges
are already exempt from the accumulation rules
and storage time limits now being changed.

Meanwhile, some EPA inspectors said that the
proposed rule change will not signify the end of
the crackdown on colleges.

"When we start seeing better compliance," says
Mr. Rota of Region 1, "we'll start focusing
somewhere else." nwhen accumulation limits will
be reached and arrange for a pickup within three


Since 1999 the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency has inspected hundreds of colleges and
imposed millions of dollars in penalties. In
order to reduce or eliminate such fines,
institutions in some cases have agreed to conduct
Supplemental Environmental Projects.

Region 1
Region 6

Colleges inspected: 35
  Cited: 11
  Penalties: $1,074,637
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: $2.68-million
Colleges inspected: 14
  Cited: 4
  Penalties: $40,070
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: $189,005

Region 21
Region 7

Colleges inspected: 40
  Cited: 13
  Penalties: $373,000
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: $1.28-million
Colleges inspected: 66
  Cited: 4
  Penalties: $290,143
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: none

Region 3
Region 8

Colleges inspected: 14
  Cited: 6
  Penalties: $171,622
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: $53,780
Colleges inspected: 10
  Cited: none

Region 42
Region 93

Colleges inspected: 93
  Cited: 2
  Penalties: $50,349
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: none
Colleges inspected: 6
  Cited: 1
  Penalty: $505,000
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: $1.2-million

Region 5
Region 10

Colleges inspected: 18
  Cited: 5
  Penalties: $38,678
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: none
Colleges inspected: 26
  Cited: 1
  Penalty: $9,350
  Supplemental Environmental Projects: none

Including Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

Since September 30, 2000

Including Guam, Trust Territories, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands

  Note: Some colleges had inspections on multiple campuses.


  The Environmental Protection Agency is expected
to issue the following rules in the coming months:

Current Regulation
Proposed Regulation

Waste Determination
Professors, researchers, and students who
generate solid waste are responsible for
determining whether the waste is regulated under
the resource-conservation act, and for labeling
it accordingly.
The solid waste would be labeled with a list of
its contents, its general hazard class, and the
date it began to be accumulated, and would be
sent to a central area, where an
environmental-health-and-safety employee would
determine whether it is regulated under the law.

Waste Storage
Each laboratory may accumulate up to 55 gallons
of hazardous waste or one quart of acutely
hazardous waste. Once that limit is met, the
laboratory has three days to move the waste to a
central accumulation area or ship it off-site.
Each laboratory would have 30 days to remove the waste once the limit is met.

Waste Treatment
Colleges must obtain permits to treat hazardous
waste on-site, in laboratories or accumulation
areas. waste. Once that limit is met, the
laboratory has three days to move the waste to a
central accumulation area or ship it off-site.
Colleges would not need a permit.

SOURCES: Colleges and Universities Sector Coordinating Committee;
Environmental Protection Agency
  Section: Government & Politics
  Volume 51, Issue 17, Page A25

Copyright  2004 by The Chronicle of Higher Education

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