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12/31/92

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California EPA notifies university of possible violations

STANFORD -- The California Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Toxic Substances Control, has notified Stanford University that it found 28 possible violations of its hazardous waste program during a seven-day inspection held in the spring of 1992.

Stanford is preparing its response to the report, said Larry Gibbs, the university's director of Environmental Health and Safety since October. The university intends to submit its response within 30 days, Gibbs said.

It is not unusual in these situations for some allegations of violations to be revised or reversed given clarifying explanation or evidence of correction, Gibbs said, and for other violations to stand, leading to corrective actions, or fines, or both. The amounts of the fines cannot be estimated and are dependent on many factors that can either escalate or mitigate a particular circumstance.

The report alleged violations in waste-generating sites (primarily research laboratories) and at the Environmental Safety Facility (the central waste collection and storage site).

The university already has addressed issues involving proper identification of chemical waste, chemical handling and storage. Those issues were identified by EPA officials during a closing conference at the end of their seven-day inspection in April and May 1992. Many of the remaining questions involve appropriateness of record-keeping and interpretation of hazardous waste regulations as applied to the operations conducted at Stanford, Gibbs said.

Of the 28 violations, Gibbs said, at least eight directly resulted from an unusual twist of fate and timing. One day before the unannounced EPA inspection, a lab clean-out in the chemistry department resulted in a large number of small containers of chemical waste being picked up and delivered to the Environmental Safety Facility. This was done to help facilitate the preparation of a laboratory for renovation, a project scheduled to begin the following day.

In moving quickly to accommodate the laboratory renovation project, Gibbs said, safety workers did not have time to sort and properly store all of the chemicals, and, in retrospect, should have followed standard procedure and refused the delivery. However, that could have resulted in the violations being reported at the generating site, i.e. the Department of Chemistry, and would have delayed even further the renovation project.

Since that event, Gibbs said, new procedures have been established and implemented to prevent recurrence of a similar incident. In addition, significant communication and discussion with faculty and academic administrators regarding hazardous waste regulations that cover laboratory-type chemicals has resulted in program changes, both within laboratories and in the central EH&S handling of such wastes.

A number of regulatory Catch-22s resulted in other violations, Gibbs said. For instance, the state permit for Stanford's central waste collection facility permits it to accept waste generated by Stanford operations. However, the EPA's interpretation of the regulations does not recognize Stanford University Hospital as a part of the permit. Therefore, the EPA indicates the Safety Facility legally should not accept chemical waste from the hospital.

However, Gibbs said, the waste specifically cited as being from the hospital was from the histology laboratory, which is an operation of the Department of Pathology in the Stanford School of Medicine.

"This points out the difficulty of attempting to separate operations conducted at Stanford that generate chemical waste and whether they are considered to be 'Stanford operations,'" Gibbs said.

Gibbs also said that he is concerned that the creation of many parallel waste programs from such concentrated activities such as those at Stanford could create increased operational risk and cost without any parallel reduction of environmental risk.

He said he was "hopeful" the EPA would be amenable to a review of the issue and be willing to discuss possible resolution, and he indicated that most similar academic research institutions, including many in California, operate hazardous waste programs that include affiliated and collaborative operations conducted on campus.

Additionally, any substance brought to the safety facility must be explicitly documented on the permit. Reported violations stemmed from removal from laboratories of chemicals that contained phenol barbital and diazepem, and from the storage of sodium metal and fluorosulfonic acid. Gibbs said those substances were not explicitly noted in the 1984 EPA- approved permit for the central collection and storage facility, and that again, the university would seek to update the permit to accommodate the full range of wastes generated by a major research university.

Reported violations concerning poor record-keeping and breaches of security are being addressed by regular training and reinforcement sessions with Environmental Health and Safety staff and other pertinent personnel throughout the university, Gibbs said.

"We think we can successfully address a number of these violations with the addition of pertinent information," Gibbs said. "However, a number of others are simply things that needed to be corrected.

"These reports are taken very seriously, and I am particularly concerned about the repeat violations, things that should have already been corrected," Gibbs said.

The university previously was cited for violations found in 1988-89; the amount of any fine is still under negotiation.

Gibbs succeeded Thomas McBride as director of Environmental Health and Safety on Oct. 26, 1992, after a nationwide search. He previously held the same position at Yale University.

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