Penalized: EPA Wrings Public Service Out of a Private Company

By Susan Jones | August 23, 2013 | 11:37 AM EDT

(AP File Photo)

( - The actual fine is far less than the cost of community service that a Rhode Island company must perform to settle its case with the Environmental Protection Agency.

Northland Environmental and its owner, PSC Environmental Services, have agreed to remove chemicals from 60 high schools and middle schools within a 50-mile radius of Northland's Providence facility -- even though the alleged violation has nothing at all to do with those schools.

Nevertheless, R.I. officials said they are happy to have the free help in disposing of "old and unnecessary" chemicals in school science labs.

The EPA on Friday announced that Northland, a commercial waste handler, has agreed to pay a $58,278 fine -- and spend $252,152 on the school cleanup -- to settle EPA claims that the company violated state and federal hazardous waste laws at its facility in Providence.

The EPA alleged that Northland/PSC Environmental Services violated the federal Resource Conservation and Recovery Act and state hazardous waste laws by "failing to properly identify certain hazardous wastes and failing to properly maintain hazardous waste tanks and containers."

According to the EPA announcement, "These alleged violations could have resulted in the release of hazardous wastes to the environment" (emphasis added). The EPA also said the company also stored incompatible hazardous wastes next to one another, creating a potential for fire or explosions (emphasis added).

"The company quickly came into compliance after the violations were identified," the news release stated.

Despite its quick compliance, and in addition to the fine, the EPA used its authority to compel the company to do something on behalf of the community at large, even though the community suffered no ill effects.

“All facilities that generate or manage hazardous wastes have an obligation to make sure they carefully adhere to the environmental requirements that result in safer, cleaner communities,” said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA’s New England office. “This case will have a positive outcome, since the projects under this settlement will help provide safer classrooms at many schools in Rhode Island and Massachusetts.”

The school clean-outs involve removing outdated and unwanted chemicals from schools at no cost to the participating schools. As the EPA noted, "Chemical management is often a low priority for schools and it is not uncommon for school science departments to have outdated and unneeded stock chemicals present."

School and state officials are glad for the assistance that they say they cannot afford:

“We are pleased to see funds from EPA actions like this reinvested in making Rhode Island a cleaner and safer place,” said Terrence Gray of the RI Department of Environmental Management (DEM). “For many years, DEM has directly supported school districts across Rhode Island by removing old and unnecessary chemicals, but that effort has always been limited by the resources we have available. This recent investment extends this important initiative so that more of these dangerous materials can be taken out of our schools, providing a much safer environment for students and educators.”

Rhode Island schools within a 50-mile radius of the Northland facility received emails letting them know of the opportunity to have toxic, hazardous, or chemicals prohibited by the state removed, courtesy of the EPA's settlement with Northland.

The EPA said interested schools provided a list of the chemicals that need to be removed. Cranston, R.I. is using the opportunity to provide both Cranston East and Cranston West High Schools with chemical clean-outs before school starts on Aug. 27.

"Safety is our first concern so we were delighted to have a partnership with the EPA Integrated Chemical Management Program  who worked with our science teachers to inventory, organize chemicals, with regards to safety and to the benefit of classroom use," said Dr. Judith Lundsten, Superintendant Cranston Public Schools. "Working with this program provided our teachers with invaluable insights with regards to managing chemical supplies. The ultimate goal is to maximize safety and learning of science inquiry in Cranston Public Schools."

In addition to paying the fine and completing the environmental project, Northland/PSC has agreed to make sure the Providence facility remains in compliance with federal and state hazardous waste management regulations, the EPA said.

Northland/PSC’s Providence facility accepts and handles a broad spectrum of wastes including acids, alkalis, flammable wastes, water reactive wastes, cyanides, sulfides, oxidizers, toxic wastes, oily wastes, photochemical wastes and laboratory packs. Hazardous and non-hazardous wastes are received, stored and or consolidated and then shipped off site for treatment or disposal.