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University violated federal environmental law

by David Ceasar
Contributing News Editor
Published by The GW Hatchet on 12/8/05
Reprinted with permission

The D.C. Health Department found Corcoran Hall in violation of environmental code after an August inspection revealed improper hazardous material storage.

The D.C. Health Department found GW in violation of federal environmental law after an August inspection revealed improper hazardous material storage in Corcoran Hall.

The University was non-compliant with parts of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act - a set of federal environmental guidelines enforced by the Environmental Protection agency - according to the EPA's online compliance database, which was last updated in November. [Click here to view the EPA report.]

D.C. Health Department officials inspected GW Aug. 24, according to the EPA's Web site. University officials said two violations were found in Corcoran Hall, where the Office of Risk Management stores hazardous waste awaiting removal. Corcoran also houses the chemistry and physics departments.

EPA regional spokeswoman Donna Heron said the District's inspection resulted in the University being cited for multiple violations. She said she didn't know any specific details about the violations and referred questions to D.C. Health Department officials, who have not returned numerous phone calls. Tracy Schario, GW's director of Media Relations, did not say why the hazardous waste facility violated environmental code.

Risk Management contracts Disposal Consultant Services, an environmental firm, to safely remove hazardous waste from campus every 90 days, said Nancy Haaga, director of GW Auxiliary and Institutional Services. The company collects, transports and disposes of the science departments' hazardous materials; it also picks up used chemicals from the art department's photo lab and used motor oil from Facilities Management.

The University has been working to resolve the outstanding violations and comply with the environmental code, Schario said, adding that a new 90-day hazardous waste storage area in Corcoran is expected to be completed by the end of January 2006. She said plans for the facility pre-dated the inspection.

"We are in the process of building a new storage facility to make sure we really do have the best place and resources in terms of storing hazardous materials and waste," Schario said. "We do not take cost-cutting measures when it comes to environmental safety."

Non-compliance with federal environmental regulations is not new to GW or other nearby colleges, according to the EPA's Web site, www.epa.gov.

In 2000, the agency charged the University with failing to implement a "spill prevention, control and countermeasure plan," according to a news release. The document stated that the University settled with the federal government for $29,460. The EPA also has cited violations in the past five years at the University of the District of Columbia, the University of Virginia and the University of Maryland Medical Center. [Click here to view the press release.]

Professor Michael King, chair of the chemistry department, which is housed in Corcoran Hall, said he stands behind the safety of his facilities and equipment and that his faculty carefully abides by the University's hazardous materials policies.

"We are environmentally responsible in the chemistry department, and we're serious about that," he said. "We are 100 percent in compliance with all of the University protocols and policies, not because we have to - because we want to."

King added, "(S)afety and security are paramount and are not limited by perceived financial hurdles."

Elias Barghash, a junior majoring in chemistry, agreed that the chemistry department conducts its operations very safely, but was surprised to learn that Corcoran - where many of his classes are held - was in non-compliance with federal environmental law.

"From the lab instructors to the guys working in the stock room ... (safety is) handled very well," Barghash said. "It is a little surprising. I figured (hazardous waste storage) would be handled a bit more carefully."

"The sooner they get it taken care of the, the better they are. Not responding (soon) is just foolish," he added.

Risk Management - not the chemistry or any other science department - is responsible for the University's compliance with District and federal regulations, Schario said. She added that the office has detailed protocol for "safe, efficient and environmentally sound hazardous waste management."

"As a part of their comprehensive risk management program, the University utilizes the most secure - and therefore most expensive - disposal option available for all wastes," Matthew Farrell, president of Disposal Consultant Services, wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. He declined to say how much GW has paid for his company's services.

Farrell said he is unsure of the company's future relationship with the University in light of this article's publication.

Farrell did not elaborate on any reasons why the University might look for a new waste disposal vendor and did not admit wrongdoing, but said the situation is "like a child molestation case - even if I'm not guilty I'm still going to get in trouble."

For more information on the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, click here.

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