Aug. 30, 2006 — Various government departments failing to separate out hazardous waste from regular garbage may cost the V.I. government nearly $147,000 in fines levied by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA sent out a news release Wednesday announcing it was citing the territory for widespread violations of federal rules pertaining to the proper management of certain hazardous wastes.
EPA spokesman Rich Cahill said from his New York office that the list of items included computer monitors, fluorescent light bulbs and waste oil.
"The waste oil wasn't labeled and has visible leaks," he said.
He said that the government has agreed to a conference call Thursday with the EPA on the matter to discuss what steps can be taken to solve the problem and mitigate the fine.
Cahill said that Public Works Commissioner George Phillips, Government House counsel Queen Terry and consultant Austin Moorehead would participate in the phone meeting with EPA.
Government House spokeswoman Rina Roebuck referred questions to the Waste Management Authority.
Phillips could not be reached for comment.
Stella Saunders, communications manager at Waste Management, said the agency was not formally notified about the citation.
"We have not been contacted," she said.
Cahill said the EPA prefers that the government come into compliance and complete what the agency calls a Supplemental Environmental Project in lieu of the fine.
According to the EPA news release, the violations occurred on all three islands at such diverse locations as schools, office buildings, motor pools, and the Public Works Department.
Saunders said the waste oil violation probably occurred at the Public Works motor pool and VITRAN bus facilities rather than the igloos established for do-it-yourself oil disposal. "We maintain those," she said of the igloos.
The violations were discovered during an April 2005 inspection. Cahill said preparing these cases takes a long time because of the documentation involved, the reason why a year and four months passed before the agency issued the citation.
EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg said in the news release that while fluorescent light bulbs and old computer monitors seem innocuous, they contain substances such as mercury and lead that can harm people and the environment.
"These items are hazardous waste and should be handled with care so they don't leak dangerous substances into the environment and endanger people's health," he said.
The news release indicates that if mercury is improperly disposed, it can repeatedly cycle through the land, water and air. When airborne, it can be deposited on soil and water, settle into sediments and ultimately be consumed by living organisms. It can then be stored in the fat reserves of living organisms.
The EPA news release also notes that televisions and color computer monitors contain an average of four pounds of lead, a toxic metal that can cause delayed neurological development in children. It can also cause other health problems in adults, including increased blood pressure, nephritis and cerebrovascular disease.
Lead is at the top of the EPA's list of substances that need to be eliminated from the environment as much as possible.
However, both computer monitors and fluorescent light bulbs can be recycled or disposed of in a manner that lowers the release into the environment.
Saunders said the WMA has worked hard to educate the public as to what is and what is not acceptable at the garbage bins and landfills.
She said that in November 2005, the agency held an e-waste collection in both the public and private sectors that netted two 40-foot containers worth of electronic items that were shipped off island.
Saunders said another one is planned in the next two or three months.
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