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Stanford and state regulators reach settlement

STANFORD -- Stanford University officials announced a settlement with state environmental regulators concerning violations of state hazardous waste, most of which occurred between 1988 and 1992. The university will pay a total of $460,000 in fines and $535,000 in administrative costs and contributions to environmental groups, add staff to handle its waste management program and develop a campuswide training program for laboratory workers who produce hazardous wastes.

"The agreement provides the foundation for an improved hazardous waste disposal process," Dean of Research Charles Kruger said in a prepared statement. "Our primary concern always has been safety, of people and the environment. Our negotiations focused on continuing and enhancing that safety, while also ensuring that we comply with applicable regulations."

In a letter sent today to the campus community as part of the agreement, Kruger outlined the general rules and regulations that faculty, students and staff are expected to follow regarding the handling of hazardous wastes.

In the letter, Kruger wrote: "As part of the settlement, Stanford agreed to comply with an explicit set of hazardous waste management practices for Stanford's laboratories for the next two years. . . . Complying with the terms of the settlement agreement will be costly and time-consuming to those associated with research at Stanford."

Kruger added: "The alternative to our settlement with DTSC [the California Department of Toxic Substance Control] was to submit contested issues to litigation, which would have been protracted and very costly both to Stanford and the state government. We chose not to embark on that course, but instead to devote our energies to complying with the settlement terms and to working constructively with the environmental agencies to develop appropriate hazardous waste management practices. . . . Therefore, I call on each member of the Stanford research community to inform himself or herself of the rules governing the management of hazardous wastes on campus and to take personal responsibility to comply with those rules."

The settlement resolves six years of dispute between Stanford and the California Department of Toxic Substance Control. During this period the department claimed to have identified more than 1,600 violations of hazardous waste regulations, 94 percent of which took place more than two years ago. (Compiling an exact total is not possible because the department did not always state precisely how many violations it was alleging.) Of these allegations, Stanford officials admitted to 40 percent and contested the remainder, maintaining that those were based on personal and idiosyncratic interpretations of how hazardous waste regulations designed for heavy industry were being applied to the much different research laboratory environment.

About 75 percent of all the DTSC citations were technical in nature, focused on process and record keeping, labeling issues and failure to report to the agency.

"We are committed to ensuring that Stanford operates a safe and efficient hazardous waste program - one that fully complies with government regulations. Most of the items identified as deficient by the DTSC have been corrected," said Lawrence Gibbs, director of Stanford's department of Environmental Health and Safety and associate vice president for faculty and staff services. "The majority of the citations have involved matters of labeling, record-keeping and process. At no time has Stanford's handling and disposal of hazardous and toxic materials harmed the environment, caused any illness or endangered either the Stanford community or our neighbors.

"Industrial chemical operations generate large quantities of a relatively few types of hazardous waste. The standard container is a 55- gallon drum. At research universities like Stanford, however, we handle thousands of different kinds of toxic chemicals, but in very small quantities - ounces, pints and gallons - that come in a variety of small bottles, jars and aerosol spray cans," Gibbs said. "As a result, the labels that we are required to use are often bigger than the containers. That is just one example of the mismatch between the research and industrial environments that have contributed to this situation."

Out of the payments the university will make, $460,000 will go to fines and $235,000 to state administrative costs, and a total of $300,000 is designated for environmental organizations agreed upon by DTSC and Stanford.

The university estimates that it will spend in addition approximately $880,000 in 1994-95 and $770,000 per year thereafter on new programs. These will include the development of a multimedia training program for laboratory researchers; hiring of additional environmental health and safety staff members to ensure that the labels on the thousands of mostly small containers of chemical waste produced each year by university scientists are labeled correctly and to handle more frequent shipments of hazardous wastes away from the area; and sending waste samples to outside chemical laboratories for regulatory characterization.

These expenditures come on top of a major increase of personnel and funding that the university has invested in its chemical waste management since 1988. In that time the number of staff involved has tripled from four to 12 while the funding level has grown from $1.1 million to a projected $2.1 million this year.

About 2 percent of the citations (39 allegations, of which the university admits only four) were for spills where material was released to the environment. Spills that university officials have acknowledged involve incidents such as acid that dripped onto a roadway from an overheated forklift battery and small amounts of oil that leaked from an aged outdoor compressor used for physics experiments that require ultralow temperatures. Those that university officials have contested primarily involve indoor spills of small amounts of chemicals that were cleaned up in the laboratories where they occurred.

Fully 30 percent of the citations (over 499 alleged, 296 admitted) involve inadequate labeling of waste containers. One example of such an error is identifying a waste by its chemical formula rather than spelling out the entire name: for example, using "CO" rather than "carbon monoxide."

Another 10 citations (eight admitted) involved improper disposals of wastes. One such incident involved a heating, ventilation and air conditioning worker who was putting some corrosion inhibitor into the HVAC system in the hospital. Someone - Environmental Health and Safety officials think a contractor - had put a small amount of sulfuric acid in an empty container of corrosion inhibitor but did not change the label. As a result, the worker inadvertently added the acid to a bucket with about three gallons of the inhibitor. When the mixture began to heat up, he realized something was wrong. So he dumped the mixture down the drain and told Environmental Health and Safety about the incident immediately afterward.

Ten percent of the alleged violations (one in five of which the university admits) were for cases where inspectors found open lids on the containers in which the wastes are temporarily stored in laboratories. (They are supposed to be closed except when material is being added or removed.)

Under the settlement, both labeling errors and open waste containers will be subject to parking-ticket-like fines of $100 per incident.

As part of the settlement, the university agrees to abide by these and a series of other specific rules for two years. At the end of this period, or possibly sooner, the agreed-upon practices may be modified to make them consistent with the regulatory interpretations that the state is applying to other research laboratories.



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