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EPA Fines GSA for Improper Disposal of Fluorescent Light Bulbs

Feb. 6, 2008 — Even the federal government isn't immune to actions by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which fined the federal General Services Administration $23,000 for improperly disposing of fluorescent lights bulbs from the Ron deLugo Federal Building on St. Thomas.
"It was a Dumpster behind the Ron deLugo federal building," said GSA spokeswoman Renee Miscione, speaking by phone from her New York office. "They found six light bulbs in it."
There was no problem at the Almeric L. Christian Federal Building and Courthouse on St. Croix, the other federally owned building in the territory.
In a settlement announced Wednesday by the EPA, the GSA agreed to complete arrangements within one year to recycle the various kinds of bulbs used in all its buildings that contain mercury and other toxic metals.
The EPA claimed the GSA violated federal hazardous waste rules last year at its building on St. Thomas by disposing of fluorescent light bulbs as regular garbage. The bulbs contain mercury and can be harmful to people and the environment if improperly discarded.
Once released into the environment, mercury cycles repeatedly through the land, water and air. When airborne, it can be deposited on soil and water bodies, settle in sediments and, ultimately, get consumed by and stored in the fat reserves of living organisms. An example of this problem is the prevalence of fish advisories resulting from mercury contamination.
"Fluorescent lights are super-efficient — up to 80 percent more than incandescent bulbs — which is great for the environment, but they do have to be handled properly once they burn out," said EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg, according to a news release issued Wednesday. "Most people don't realize that every time they toss a fluorescent bulb into the regular trash, they are releasing mercury into the environment. Though these bulbs only contain a very small amount of mercury, it can add up fast."
The GSA manages 50 buildings in the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, northern New Jersey and New York. Some of those buildings house EPA offices, but the EPA website lists a Beltjen Road address for the St. Thomas office, not the Ron deLugo Federal Building. No one could be reached at the St. Thomas EPA office for more information.
A law passed in 1999 prohibits disposing of fluorescent light bulbs in the garbage, but word doesn't appear to have gotten out, said EPA spokesman Rich Cahill, speaking by phone from his New York office.
"People just haven't gotten the message," he said.
Cahill ticked off a slew of big-name companies that have faced similar fluorescent light bulb problems. They include Macy's, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Long Island Railroad, the city of New York and IBM.
For more information on the proper disposal of mercury and other bulbs containing toxic metals in the territory, contact Paulina Hobson at the V.I. Waste Management Authority at 340-712-4963.
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